It is always worth paying attention to the Preface at Mass. That is the prayer that the priest reads after the dialogue that begins “The Lord be with you; and with your spirit. Lift up your hearts, etc.” There are different ones for the seasons of the year and different options for each season. They often contain a summary of what is most important about the feast we celebrate.
The first Preface of Lent, which we will hear a number of times at Mass during this Lent, calls this season God’s ‘gracious gift’. If we are inclined to look at Lent as a sort of punishment for our sins, a time of suffering imposed on us, we will find that phrase very strange. We will also be inclined to try and minimize our ‘punishment’, and try to do the bare minimum.
If we take that phrase seriously, however, it will give us the key to making the most of our Lenten journey. The Preface goes on to describe the real purpose of Lent – that we ‘may be led to the fullness of grace that you bestow on your sons and daughters.’ In other words, Lent is a gift that God gives us to help prepare us to receive the much greater gift He wants to give us. That gift, the life as His sons and daughters united with Him, is one which we are not yet able to receive fully and so He gives us the gift of preparation, to clear away everything within us that hinders His grace from working to make us what He wants us to be.
If we look at it that way we begin to see why Lent is a joyful season. It gives us the joy of cooperating with God’s work in our own lives; it gives us the joy of unwrapping the gift which contains inside it the promise of an unending stream of gifts, which God is, as we shall see on Good Friday, quite literally dying to give us. That vision helps us to see the work of prayer, of being generous to those in need, and, the one we all think of first: fasting, is one great act of saying “yes” to God’s gift.
It is also the most powerful form of “Yes”. One we speak not just with our lips, but with our lives. And it doesn’t just say “I want this”, it also makes me more able to receive the gift. The disciplines of Lent – and it is good to remember that prayer and works of charity are just as important as fasting – are designed to open our hearts. To make us able to celebrate the feasting of Easter with that much greater joy.
May we all have a blessed Lent and a still more joyful Easter to come.
– Fr Chris