We are now well into the season of Lent. How’s it going so far? Oh, not so good, huh?
Well, I’m not surprised. It’s been just about one year since the COVID pandemic shut down large segments of everyday life — including church life.
In many ways, it seems the last 12 months have been one long, never-ending somber season of Lent. It began in mid-March last year. After a normal start to the annual Lenten season of fasting and penance — with the usual traditions of Ash Wednesday, no meat on Fridays, Stations of the Cross services, etc. — suddenly everything just shut down, and we were ordered by the bishops not to attend Mass anymore. I fully understand why they HAD to do it, but it still boggles my mind that Catholic bishops ordered the laity not to attend Mass. That’s probably the only time it’s ever happened during the 2,000-year history of Christianity. (When I was about 12 years old, my parents asked me what I planned to give up for Lent. Being a smart-aleck, I said, “I’m giving up going to Mass!” Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that would be the case — by order of the bishops!)
So, last year we all stayed away from church for the last half of Lent, then for Holy Week and the special Triduum events, and then Easter Sunday. The church prohibition continued for the seven weeks of the Easter season, through to the feast of Pentecost. At best, we were able to watch some Masses and other services on TV or with our computers, but the most sacred and special and holy events on the entire church calendar were wiped out. OK, they weren’t exactly “wiped out.” Priests still said the Masses and conducted services. But watching a blurry image of Easter Sunday Mass on an iPad with a mediocre wifi connection is not quite the same as being there in person.
Thankfully, here in Connecticut the churches finally were opened last July, with strict guidelines, of course, to limit the number of attendees. I think the “no singing” rule was the most painful for me to endure, although the people who usually sit in front of me surely found it to be a blessed relief.
However, because the pandemic was still raging when churches opened last summer, many people, especially the elderly, did not return. And now it’s been a complete year since these people have been inside a church building. Who knows if they’ll ever come back?
Anyway, getting back to my original question, how are your Lenten observances going so far? I hope you didn’t do what I did on Ash Wednesday. Unable to get to a church in person, I decided to apply my own ashes. But I couldn’t find any, since no one in my house smokes and we haven’t used the fireplace in 30 years. So, I grabbed a black Magic Marker. Ooh, bad move. I think the big splotch on my forehead should wear off by October.
If you’re like me, Lenten practices have always revolved around activities at church. There’s Sunday Mass, with the violet vestments and altar cloths, and the weekly reminder during the homily about this somber season of prayer and fasting. Also, the Stations of the Cross service each Friday evening has always been very special.
Just like the second half of Lent and Easter last year, it appears we have to do our Lenten observances on our own again this year. Fortunately, there are terrific resources online. Do a Google search for “Lenten Reflections 2021.” One that struck me as somewhat interesting can be found at the website: MyCatholic.life . (Be careful. It’s a tricky web address with no .com or .org.)
If you haven’t done anything special for Lent so far, it’s not too late. Find a website with daily reflections and prayers, and set aside 10 or 15 minutes each day, preferably in the morning. I think you’ll find it spiritually uplifting.
Let’s face it, in these crazy times, we’re sort of on our own for a while. Although we’re never really on our own since Jesus is, as He promised, with us always.
This can be a prayerful and productive Lenten season, even if many of our traditional parish-based devotions are not available. To coin a phrase from a few months ago: Don’t forget the “reason for the season.” As always, the Lord Jesus is the focus of our spiritual attention. If we stay close to Him, everything will be fine. And even though this Lent is very different than usual, one traditional aspect of Lent is still in force: on Fridays, please steer clear of those cheeseburgers.