March seasonal notes
The Lenten season
Notes, important dates, and other material for March.
Notes for Cycle A
PASSION IS THE THEME for this month, not for merely one Sunday of it. We may be forgiven for wincing at the lurching emotions through which we are summoned week by week; we can imagine it was no different for the original disciples who actually endured these events firsthand. In Jerusalem at last, Jesus does wonderful, dreadful things: curing a man born blind and throwing the act almost dispassionately into the flushed faces of powerful enemies. If the disciples quavered at the result, their fears were well founded. Next comes an even more flagrant act, the raising up of a dead man just outside of town in Bethany, coupled with the seemingly blasphemous claim: I AM the resurrection. It is no wonder that the net is lowered hastily after that and Jesus is caught up in the trap of those who hate him. Caught, that is, but never owned. Imprisoned, but always free. Murdered, but hardly finished, not by a long shot. The one who is resurrection cannot be dismissed so lightly.
THIS MONTH Lent concludes and Easter begins. Two great seasons of the church year meet and exchange a holy kiss in the events of the Triduum. We recall in this powerful time how many who are not frequent visitors to the pews are nonetheless attracted to the celebrations of mortality in Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In a culture that conceals weakness, age, illness, and the dying process, these commemorations draw out the nominally faithful as they instinctively seek a safe setting to acknowledge, explore, and reflect on human limitation and vulnerability.
We welcome that process and invite both regular members and seekers to go more deeply into the Paschal Mystery together. The hospitality of the com- munity should be especially encouraged, and our care in presenting the core of our faith must be lovingly apparent. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! It’s time to shout Alleluias loud enough to wake the dead.
Notes for Cycle B
ORDINARY TIME gives way to Lent on a peculiar note, with an admonition not to fast while the groom is among us. Yet soon we are plunged into a season marked by fasting, abstinence, and a mood of penitence. What’s up? Are we playacting the vacancy of Christ? The Risen Lord promised to be with his church “until the end of the ages.”
But the practice of liturgy reminds us that time according to the clock is illusory. Though we are caught in the perspective of a singular moment, God sees all from the advantage of eternity. Our birth and life and death and rising are in God’s hands in this moment. Across the world, humanity experiences at once the desolation of corruption due to sin, as well as the saving power revealed in Jesus Christ. And so we can enter the season of penitence with hope, mindful of the joy that is ours even now.
WE NEED LENT. Much as we hate to admit it, our progress in the spiritual life never permits us to get beyond our mortality—which is another way of saying we remain sinners in need of grace and salvation. Even as we advance in habits of prayer, moral behavior, service, and the practice of compassion, we are still hampered by the spirit of temptation. The face it wears may change, but the voice that calls us to disregard God’s will for ours remains surprisingly recognizable. Centuries may come and go, but the devil Jesus encountered in the desert is the same rascal who haunts our world today.
In the wisdom of the church, we spend 40 days each year preparing to square off with the opponent of our souls once more. The enemy is us, as the saying goes: We are the ones who rebel against God’s laws in favor of the greedy self. Jesus has already vanquished this enemy for all eternity. We need only keep it at bay for another season.
Notes for Cycle C
IN A SENSE, the season of Lent needs no introduction; it is itself an introduction and short primer into the mysteries of salvation.
During these weeks each year, the community of faith repents its common sinfulness and seeks renewal. Those preparing to join our assembly take the final steps toward full initiation.
Meanwhile the heart of Christianity is unfolded before us in stories about sin and grace, promise and revelation, restoration and compassion. We celebrate the good news that there is nothing God can’t do, or won’t do, to rescue us from death and shepherd us to bold new life.
The proof of that assertion is evident in the final week of the season, when the power of darkness has its hour and Jesus walks the lonesome valley on ahead of us. Are we ready for Lent? No, we never are. But whatever is lacking, God’s mercy will supply.
LENT IN CYCLE C is a particularly rich time to contemplate the mystery of God’s mercy and the imperative to repent. After navigating the familiar stories of the temptation of Jesus and his Transfiguration, we come to three remarkable gospel passages about change. The first concerns the fruitless fig tree that exhausts the soil, not to mention the orchard owner’s patience. The gardener wins the tree a year’s reprieve, but the challenge to produce is now pressing. The second story involves the religious leaders’ lament about Jesus and his tendency to attract sinners. Jesus responds to their disapproval with the story of a father who loves his children whether they are loyal or not. The third story is a drama from John about a sinner upon whom a judgment is sought. Does not a woman this patently evil deserve to die?
In each case, Jesus forestalls judgment in favor of mercy, offering each character an opportunity to be transformed by grace. Mercy comes before repentance; and repentance is not guaranteed, only hoped for.
“Fast” in liturgy, too
THE LITURGY OF LENT offers several opportunities to “fast” in worship. In recognition of this season of renewal, repentance, and preparation, we omit praying the Gloria during Mass and do not utter the word Alleluia.
Presiders can shorten their greetings and variable introductions to prayers, and the liturgy can end with the dismissal. Thus the closing song is omitted, and the Mass is brought to conclusion in silence. Or, meditative instrumental music—if you’re using instruments in Lent—can accompany the dispersing of the assembly.
Eastern Orthodox celebrations
FOR EASTERN ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday, the seventh Monday before Pascha (Easter) in the Orthodox calendar. “Clean” refers to the inner cleaning of repentance and prayer and the outer cleaning of fasting and the practice of removing leftover food from the house. Great Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. Holy Week is technically a separate season from Great Lent.
Archbishop Óscar Romero prayer: A step along the way
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, and opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
—by Bishop Ken Untener
Saint David’s Day Several charming traditions have come down to us about the sixth- century bishop and patron saint of Wales. His baptismal was said to heal illnesses, and on one occasion he made the ground rise underneath him while he was preaching so all could see and hear him. At his succession to bishop, a white dove settled on his shoulders. During the 18th century, Saint David’s Day became a Welsh national festival.
FIRST FRIDAY OF MARCH
World Day of Prayer The World Day of Prayer is a movement of Christian women in more than 170 countries and regions and of many traditions who come together to observe a common day of prayer each year—the first Friday of March—and who, in many countries, have a continuing relationship in prayer and service. Through the World Day of Prayer, women around the world affirm: 1) their belief in Jesus Christ; 2) that their beliefs, prayers, and action are inseparable; and 3) that their faith and actions have immeasurable influence in the world. For information on this event, check worlddayofprayer.net.
International Women’s Day International Women’s Day celebrates the economic, social, cultural, and political achievements of women. It tells the story of ordinary women as makers of history and is rooted in the struggle of women seeking to participate equally in society. The first International Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911 in Europe. German women selected this date because it was on that day in 1848 the Prussian king had promised the vote for women. Women’s groups around the world commemorate International Women’s Day, as does the United Nations. In many countries the date is also designated as a national holiday.