The aim and object of Lent is not just penance, but grace.
Up to now we have always regarded Lent as a time specially set aside for penance, a time for examining our consciences and doing penance for our sins. The struggle against sin was always made the central factor of this season. If we failed to find anything about penance and contrition in the liturgical texts, we felt strangely uneasy. But is this the actual purpose of Lent? Was this the reason why the Church introduced the Lenten season? I think we will understand this season better if we look at it from the standpoint of Easter. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. And what significance has Easter for the Church? It is not just a day of remembrance of the historical fact of Christ's death and resurrection. Easter is the time when God opens all the flood-gates of Heaven, and lets the torrent of His divine grace pour down upon us. At no time in the year do we get so much grace as at Eastertide. It is this fact that we Westerners seem to have forgotten almost entirely. The vivid realisation of Easter as a festival of grace is something that has been preserved for us by the Eastern Church. At Eastertime we mortals are, as it were, quite transformed. For one day at least it is as though Paradise had come on earth. Everything is new.
...[T]he aim and object of Lent is not just penance, but grace. What the Church wants to do in preparation for Easter is to lay a firm foundation of grace. Every type of Christian must make good use of the means that lead to grace: Catechumens, preparation for Baptism; penitents, penance; the faithful, God's word and the Eucharist. That was the original purpose of Lent.
…This year, then, let us think of Lent in the way in which the Church solemnly proclaims it on the First Sunday of Lent: "We entreat you not to offer God's grace an ineffectual welcome… Here is the time of pardon (of grace); the day of salvation has come already." If grace is truly man's highest good, then it is only right and proper to devote forty days of the year to taking particular care of it. Admittedly it is God's free gift to us, but we must try to make ourselves worthy of it by self-preparation and self-surrender'.
Lent is our penitential season. So we need to understand penitence. Briefly, penitence is Godly sorrow. There is also ungodly sorrow:
– Self-pity is one form.
– We can be sorry for our sins because they keep us from thinking of ourselves as good people.
– We can be sorry because our sins make us look bad to others, and because we then need to apologise and we find apologies distasteful.
– We may dislike going to confession. These are all forms of sorrow for sin, which are also self-centred, ultimately rooted in pride.
Fr. Pius Parsch. "Lent: A preparation for grace." from Seasons of Grace (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963).
This book is in the public domain.
Father Pius Parsch, C.R.S. (1884-1954) was a Czech liturgist and member of the Canons Regular at Klosterneuburg Abbey. He is the author of Seasons of Grace.Copyright © 1963 Herder and Herder
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