St Mark's Church, Enfield

An inclusive Christian family in Bush Hill Park

KEEPING A HOLY LENT

 

What is Lent?

 

Lent is the season of preparation leading up to Easter.  It is the forty days plus the six Sundays before Easter.  For centuries it has been observed as a special time of self-examination and penitence.  Lent is a time for concentration on fundamental values and priorities, not a time for self-punishment.

 

Throughout Lent, the services of the Church take on a simpler tone, appropriate to this season.  There are no flowers or other decorations, and the colour of the vestments worn by the ministers is purple – a sign of solemnity.  The word “Alleluia” is not used in hymns or services.  The last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide, and during this period crosses showing the risen Christ are veiled.  The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week, when we solemnly recall in “real time” the final events of Our Lord’s earthly life.  These practices help the worshipping community to mark this as a special season of renewal in the Church’s year.

 

Observing Lent

 

The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things and taking on some extra ones.  Both can help to mark the season as a holy time of preparation.  Some examples of things that people give up for Lent include sweets, meat for all or some meals (especially on Wednesdays and Fridays), and alcohol.  Other people decide to reduce their consumption of things such as newspapers, TV and the internet, and to live a little more quietly.  In most cases, giving something up can be made more meaningful by using the time or money saved for another purpose.  For example, if you give up meat or alcohol, that money could be given to a group such as Christian Aid or USPG which work to alleviate suffering in the developing world.  Some things which may be added during Lent are daily Bible reading, fasting on Fridays, times of prayer, and taking a course of spiritual study.

 

Note that the season of Lent is forty days, plus the six Sundays.  This is because Sundays are always celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection, and are an appropriate day to relax the restrictions of Lent.  So, for example, if you have given up alcohol for Lent, you could indulge in a glass of wine on Sunday.

         

Lent is also an especially appropriate time for the sacrament of confession.  While confession to a priest is not essential to receive God’s forgiveness, many find it helpful for reconciliation.

 

In addition, when in church, you may find find it helpful to visit the Stations of the Cross.  These are depictions - placed around the walls of the church - of 14 incidents in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion (suffering) and death, starting at Pilate’s house and ending with his body being laid in the tomb.  They are used in a form of prayer in which we visit each station in turn, and using a brief reading, response, collect or meditation on the event depicted.  It is a particularly appropriate for Fridays and certain other days in Lent.

 

Special Days and Services

 

Shrove Tuesday

This is actually the day before Lent begins.  The name comes from the “shriving” or confessing/absolving that was traditional on this day before Lent.  The day is also known in some countries as Mardi Gras (literally, “Fat Tuesday”) because it was a time for eating up the things from which one would abstain during Lent.  Eating pancakes became traditional as they were a way of using up some ingredients not needed during Lent.

 

Ash Wednesday   Holy Communion with Imposition of Ashes: 12 noon (St Stephen's) 7:00pm (St Mark's)

The first day of Lent is marked with a special liturgy.  The theme for the day – although not for the whole of Lent – is that we stand as sinners condemned to die, were it not for the grace of God.  This is symbolised by the imposition of ashes on the forehead, with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.  In the Old Testament, ashes were a sign of penitence (feeling regret for one’s sins) and mourning.

 

Ash Wednesday is one of two days of special observance (the other being Good Friday) on which fasting is recommended.  While this can mean going without food for the entire day, this will not be advisable for everyone, eg diabetics.  For those not able to abstain completely, it may mean eating simply and lightly, and going without meat.

  

Mothering Sunday   Family Mass: 9:30am (St Stephen's) 11:00am (St Mark's)

The fourth Sunday in Lent has long been observed as a day for completely relaxing the disciplines of Lent.  For this reason, it is also known as Refreshment Sunday or Mid-Lent Sunday.  Because the readings and prayers for this day focus on the role of Jesus’ mother, Mary, in God’s plan for our salvation, it is the day on which we especially celebrate and pray for mothers, and all who exercise maternal care in any way.

 

Palm Sunday   Procession of Palms & Parish Mass 9:30am (St Stephen's) 11:00am (St Mark's)

This Sunday before Easter is the last in Lent.  The day commemorates Jesus' triupmphal entry into Jerusalem, when the crowd threw palms in his path, but subsequently abandoned him to be crucified.  The service starts with the blessing of the palm crosses, and a procession in which the whole congregation carries palms.  The day is also marked by the reading of the Passion Narative (the Gospel account of Jesus' suffering).  Some of the plam crosses are kept and used to make the Ash Wednesday ashes for the following year.

 

Maundy Thursday   Mass of the Lord's Supper & Vigil 7:30pm (St Stephen's)

This is the Thursday in Holy Week, and is a commemoration of the Last Supper which Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he died.  The name comes from the Latin word mandatum meaning "mandate" or "commandment" as Jesus said at the Last Supper: "I give you a new commandment: that you love one another".  At the end of the Maundy Thursday evening service, altars are stripped, and the ornamentation of the church removed, as a sign of our desolation in the face of Jesus' betrayal.  Afterwards a silent vigil (watch) is kept in church, in response to Jesus' plea to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest: "Will you not watch with me one hour?".

 

Good Friday   Liturgy of the Day: 2:00pm (St Mark's)

The Friday in Holy week is a solemn day, on which we recall Jesus' death.  Since Jesus hung on the cross between the hours of noon and 3:00pm, there is an hour-long service at 2:00pm in the bare church, at which we commemorate his death and contemplate its meaning.  There is no celebration of the Eucharist between Maundy Thursday evening and the first mass on Easter on Sunday morning, so the bread consecrated (blessed or made holy) on Maundy Thursday is distributed on Good Friday.  This is the other day of special observation on which fasting is recommended for those who are able.  In any case, we should try to avoid shopping and other unnecessary or frivolous activities, as a witness to the seriousness of our Christian faith.

 

Easter Day   Parish Mass: 9:30am (St Stephen's) 11:00am (St Mark's)

This day is the most joyful of the Christian year, as it celebrates Jesus' resurrection from the dead, his appearance to his disciples, and the fact that his victory over death means that we who believe in him are promised eternal life.  The church looks especially beautiful with flowers and other decorations, and an Easter Garden depicting the disciples John and Peter arriving at Jesus' tomb and finding it empty.  The main service on this day is full of joy and hope, and is followed by a party in church.  Easter Day marks the beginning of a bright new season in the Church's year; but more importantly, it marks the new beginning which God gave the human race by raising his Son to new life, and opening the way to glory for his faithful people.