Thought for the week - 27 March
In his introduction to ‘Lent, Holy Week & Easter, Services & Prayers’ (CBF 1986) Douglas Jones writes:
The origin of the season of Lent lies not in any conscious re-enactment of our Lord's time in the wilderness, which remains only a secondary theme of the season, but in the rigorous preparation of Christians for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ in Holy Week and at Easter. The observance of Lent was at first undertaken by the baptismal candidates, for whom it was the final part of their preparation before initiation into the Church in the Easter liturgy, and by those who had been excommunicated for grave and public sin and would be readmitted to the Church's sacramental life in time for Easter after a period of penance. It was not long before the Church realized the benefit to all Christians of joining these particular categories of people in a season of preparation marked by penitence expressed in prayer and fasting. It is this sense of preparation, and so of eager expectation with Good Friday and Easter Day always in view, that should characterize the season of Lent.
The popular idea of 'giving things up' in Lent, however inadequately it is often understood, has its liturgical expression in the stark simplicity of Lenten worship. In part this is to express a spirit of penitence. But it is also in order to provide striking contrast with the joyful celebration of Easter. This 'giving up' traditionally includes the omission of the Gloria in Excelsis at the eucharist, the absence of flowers from the church, the restrained use of the organ to accompany worship,
and the careful selection of texts (for instance of hymns) to avoid the use of the word 'Alleluia' and similar expressions of joy which will greet the resurrection on Easter Day. These are only examples of how a distinctive atmosphere can be introduced into the worship of the season. Priest and people must aim at an austerity that is quite different from dreariness.
The spirit of the season is also expressed by a restraint in the observance of Holy Days that interrupt the Lent ethos. The feast days of St Joseph and the Annunciation are legitimate intrusions, appropriately marked by the return of the Gloria and other signs of festival. But the lesser commemorations, except where they have particular local significance, are best observed only by inclusion in the prayers of intercession.
At St Stephen’s we like most (if certainly not all!) Anglican churches follow this pattern throughout Lent. We do though, hit a certain kind of practical and liturgical issue on Lent 4, often kept as Mothering Sunday. As in other churches of Catholic order, we do keep Mothering (or Refreshment) Sunday with a liturgical relaxation in the rules around music, colour, and flowers. Without proper care though, Mothering Sunday, lovely though it is, can completely break the proper flow of the Lenten season.
At St Stephen’s, again in common with many churches, we seek to retain the Lenten character by keeping the pattern of ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ remembering in Mary the Mother of Jesus, not only the joys of motherhood, but the sorrows too. In the Stations of the Cross, we remember Mary as she meets Jesus on the road to Calvary, we remember her at the foot of the Cross, we remember her holding her lifeless son. All of this is in stark contrast to the joys of Christmas. We all know that life has its share of sorrows as well as joys. In this, the first real celebration of Mothering Sunday since the Covid lockdowns, there is a particular poignance. It is certainly true that the Covid pandemic has hit older people hardest, and most especially those in hospital and residential care. It may be coincidence, or there may be more than usual accuracy in the oft quoted statistic that there are more widows than widowers, more women in care than men, but certainly so very many have lamented separation from their elderly loved ones for a long time.
At St Stephen’s this year we shall, as we remember our Lady of Sorrows, remember as well, all who have lost or been separated from, elderly loved ones because of the Pandemic.
Our mother of sorrows, with strength from above you stood by the cross, sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, and with tender care you bore him in your arms, mourning and weeping.
We praise you for your faith, which accepted the life God planned for you. We praise you for your hope, which trusted that God would do great things in you. We praise you for your love in bearing with Jesus the sorrows of his passion.
Holy Mary, may we follow your example, and remember all your children who have or now need comfort and love.
Mother of God, stand by them and us in our trials and care for us in our many needs.
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.