On Ash Wednesday, February 13 much of the Christian world entered into the season of Lent. This season will last for 40 days concluding in the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter morning.
If you’re new to the Anglican faith this season may sound strange to you or “strangely unnecessary.” But there is a good reason for Lent and it has its foundation in Holy Scripture and in the Church since the earliest of times.
The word Lent derives from an ancient Anglo-Saxon word, “Lencten” which refers to the lengthening of the days implying the beginning of spring, or “springtime”. The forty day period (which does not include the Sundays within the season) is derived from the forty days that our Lord spent in the wilderness after His baptism. This was a time of testing and temptation for Jesus by Satan. Our Lord’s forty days reflects upon the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. That, too, was a time of testing and temptation for the children of God.
As Christians, Anglicans are call to follow Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As we follow Him we will surely struggle with our own temptations, and Satan will test us always to see how committed we are to living into our baptismal call.
The liturgical color of the season is purple. Purple is used because at the beginning of His passion Jesus was clothed in a purple robe. The color has become associated with His suffering and with the solemnity of this season.
Special aspects to this season’s liturgy are:
Our Sunday morning worship consists of two parts, the “Liturgy of the Word” and the “Holy Eucharist.”
The “Liturgy of the Word” contains three lessons from Holy Scripture: a passage from the Old Testament including a Psalm, a passage from an Epistle from the New Testament and a reading from one of the Gospels. The sermon follows the reading of Holy Scripture and is a teaching vehicle to instruct the faithful and to challenge them to a deeper, more meaningful life with Christ. After the sermon the Nicene Creed is said by all and is our profession of the historic Christian faith. We also include the prayers of God’s people for the needs of the world, for the mission of the Church, and for the special needs of St. John’s and individuals and a call to confession of sin and receiving of God’s absolution.
The second part of our worship is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The name Eucharist is from the Greek meaning “Thanksgiving.” The “Holy Eucharist” is its earliest title, examples of that are found in the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch and also of St. Justin. Over time this sacrament has been called “the Lord’s Supper”, the “Table of the Lord”, “Holy Communion”, the “Blessed sacrament”, or simply the “Liturgy.” Each of these titles illustrates one or more aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery as the Real Presence of Christ, as the Sacrifice of the Altar, and as communion with the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
During Lent we remove the flowers from the Altar, and we don’t say the “alleluias”. On the First Sunday of Lent we use an ancient Anglican liturgy called the “Great Litany.” On Fridays in Lent we have the “Stations of the Cross” which is a brief service reflecting on the last few hours of Jesus’ life.
All in all the season of Lent is a time for fasting, self-examination, prayer, study and self-denial. The Book of Common Prayer provides instruction regarding special days of fasting and acts of discipline and self-denial all of which are most suited for the Season of Lent. (see 1979 BCP page 17 and 1928 BCP page li — or roman numeral 51).
This beautiful season concludes with the Liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter morning. This journey of forty days will confront us with the sure reality of our personal sins and God’s call to amendment of life, to the passion of Jesus Christ and His death to free us from the clutches of Satan, to the resurrection of Jesus Christ complete with sung alleluias, beautiful flowers, the ringing of bells and the joy of the Christian faith!