Well it is finally upon us. The season of Lent seems to appear way too quickly after Christmas Season, but the sooner the better. I have so many warm remembrances of Lent from my childhood and of course there are opportunities to participate in many more prayerful activities during Lent than one normally expects during the remainder of the year.
Mass is a bit more somber during this period. The liturgical norms suggest no accompaniment for singing unless necessary to aid the singing ... those folks don't seem to understand that we have lost the gift of song and of tune long ago and if we do not have some musical instrument helping it is a sad sound indeed!!! I love singing myself and, although often chided by classmates during formation for not singing on tune, think I have more or less outgrown discord and have a fairly decent voice. If I know a tune and it fits, I can sing almost anything. Of course there are probably still a few die-hards out there saying I should maintain a descrete silence. Too many people say that to others. Yes, some folks singing could ruin any choir's perfect presentation, but without the failures it is really hard for anyone to move on to better results. I really do think some professionalism has quashed folksy singing. I suggest that people sing always, even if somewhat quietly, but always sing. With time even the worst singers can develop a certain expertise that will blend nicely with congregational singing. If we need a professional choir, hire one. Don't snuff out the voice of the people because of some misplaced ideal of singing perfection. Remember, to sing is to pray twice ... let the singing continue!
Devotions become more heavily attended and/or participated. The Rosary in common used to be a common activity in most parish churches ... meditating on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and our own call to holiness in that particular format has faded in many places. This kind of meditative prayer using as many of the senses as possible does not seem to be taught and encouraged. Maybe it is because of the repetition of "Hail Marys". What better way to keep ones mind focused on one thing than to keep the senses busy with other things! The Rosary is a vocal prayer. Even in private recitation it should, as much as is possible, be said out loud. It is also a prayer with a steady rythym maintained by the repetition of Our Father, ten Hail Marys and a Glory. Recitation back and forth between two groups in public also forces the conscious, active, part of a person to be totally engaged making it hard for extraneous thoughts to break in. Holding the Rosary itself and moving the fingers across the beads keeps tactile stimulous tied to the meditations as well. Thus for at least the time it takes to say that one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and the Glory the mind is allowed to remain fixed on a particular mystery of Christ's life death and resurrection. It is a marvelous way to reduce distraction in prayer.
Lent also brings forth a greater attention to those 14 crosses around the interior of most churches. Often they are more elaborate than simple crosses and not only have words describing Jesus' way of sorrow, but also pictures or sculptures to aid in focus on that agonizing journey to Golgotha. Begun by Franciscans in the Holy Land (where there are still stational crosses in Old Jerusalem), this pilgrimage was desired by others who could not go to the Holy Land and walk in Christ's footsteps. Errection of "stations" in churches along with meditations on the journey developed into what we now know as the "Stations of the Cross." This particular meditation dwels on the passion of Jesus from the Condemnation by Pilate to his burial in the tomb. Some would add a fifteenth station: Rsurrection, but that sidesteps the focus of the journey: The sacrificial death of Jesus which by that one action freed us from sine and opened the gates of heaven. Yes, the Resurrection is essential in "proving" that what Jesus did was what he said he did, but it is the sacrifice which set us free and we cannot get to the resurrection except through the crucifixion. During Lent the Stations of the Cross are an excellent way to dwell on the precious gift we have received. There are many small booklets with meditations in them, but just following the stations and immersing oneself in what each might have been like in reality can be a very powerful preparation for Holy Week and Easter. And remember, don't let the details get in the way of the story.