Observing Lent
Resources of writing, prayer, pictures and poetry from Saint Faith's, Great Crosby

A Reflection on the Season of Lent from Fr Neil

‘Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord‘s passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting. At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognise that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God‘s holy word.’

These words, which we hear at the start of the Ash Wednesday Liturgy are words which may be familiar to us and they sum up what Lent is all about. Lent is not an event in itself (a solemn and miserable period of giving up all that we enjoy!) but rather a preparation for the great events of Holy Week and Easter. The Easter mystery cannot be fully comprehended at one level: the event of the Resurrection is literally so earth-shattering, that if we are to begin to understand what it means for us and for our world, we need to carefully and prayerfully prepare to embrace it.

The Church in her wisdom gives us the season of Lent so that we can prepare for Easter. However, the words used at the ceremony of the Ashes remind us of our mortality. We are frail, fragile, vulnerable human beings. Very few of us are perfect - you might be - I certainly am not! Lent must be a time for us to take stock of our lives; our priorities, our needs, our sins, our strengths and weaknesses. Have we got the priorities right? Do we need to rethink our lives in some way or other? How much room is there in our heart for God? Is our Christian Faith something we focus on for one hour each week or is it the thing that drives every moment of our lives? A good Lent will, sadly, mean some tough questions to wrestle with and more than likely some adjustments to be made. That re-assessing of our lives is one of the ways we prepare ourselves for Easter. The Easter message requires us to “go out to the whole world, and proclaim the Good News”. All well and good. But we first have to accept that Good News in our own hearts and lives. Accepting unconditional love and forgiveness is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do.

Lent is a journey - a journey which may make us at times feel isolated, and yet a journey which takes us closer to the heart of God. The true Lent can come at any time!
The only price-tag that can be put on unconditional love is ‘pain’. The cross teaches us that. So let us not be afraid of the journey even though it may at times be unpleasant and make us feel uncomfortable. Sadly that is the only road which will ultimately lead us to the glory of Easter.

Almighty God,
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Suggested Reading for Lent

Being part of the Passion: “the Nail” – Stephen Cottrell

This Lent book offers imaginative reflections on Christ’s crucifixion. Each of the seven chapters is focused on a different key character, who describes his or her experience of the Passion. The nails used to crucify Christ are used as a jumping off point for their reflections.

Each character considers the questions, ‘who killed Christ’ and ‘who was responsible?’ Each chapter includes a Biblical passage, a meditative hymn, a reflection from the point of view of the character, and a short prayer.

The book finishes with practical suggestions on how it can be used as a Lent study course. It is ideal for individual reflection or group study, and can also readily be adapted for use as a Good Friday liturgy.

Love Unknown by Ruth Burrows: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2012

Ruth Burrows is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Essence of Prayer. This new book is the result of a commission to write the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book for 2012. In it she distils the wisdom and experience gained from her life as a Carmelite nun into a vigorous, compelling presentation of what it means to be a Christian.

Ruth Burrows believes that many people, even regular churchgoers, miss the true meaning and joy of Christianity. God longs for us to know him as our Saviour, so that he can bring us to share in his own Trinitarian life and love. Burrows traces how God reveals himself to us through our personal lives, particularly our experiences of weakness and failure; through history and the natural world; through the scriptures; and above all, through his beloved Son Jesus. Encountering the living God revealed in Jesus Christ challenges us to face our own truth, and sets us free to receive the boundless love, the joy, fulfilment, and holiness, for which we were made.

On Retreat: A Lenten Journey – Andrew Walker: The Mowbray Lent Book 2012

Retreats are increasingly popular but the classic 8-day version is nowadays too daunting or too expensive for most. Here is a resource for both first-timers and the more experienced: a journey of personal prayer to be made over the period of one Lent, slowly integrating formal prayer times and the routine activities of daily living into a deeper encounter with God.

The material is equally suitable for the reader at home, or for groups, or can be adapted to a residential retreat (either self-guided or directed). Effective use of prayer time is explored, with the emphasis on practical suggestions and ideas including scripture and poetry, meditation, contemplation, journalling and intercession.

A 'prayer journey' through Lent, increasingly involving the whole person, opens up a world of spiritual possibilities by encouraging a deeper relationship with God and a reconnection with daily living, reinvigorated and hopeful.

All books can be ordered via the Liverpool Cathedral bookshop (0151 702 7255).

A Reflection on the Season of Lent

An introduction to the Season from Common Worship

Lent may originally have followed Epiphany, just as Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness followed immediately on his baptism, but it soon became firmly attached to Easter, as the principal occasion for baptism and for the reconciliation of those who had been excluded from the Church’s fellowship for apostasy or serious faults. This history explains the characteristic notes of Lent – self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter, to which almsgiving has traditionally been added.

Now is the healing time decreed
for sins of heart and word and deed,
when we in humble fear record
the wrong that we have done the Lord.
(Latin, before 12th century)

As the candidates for baptism were instructed in Christian faith, and as penitents prepared themselves, through fasting and penance, to be readmitted to communion, the whole Christian community was invited to join them in the process of study and repentance, the extension of which over forty days would remind them of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, being tested by Satan.

Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence; from the middle ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. The calculation of the forty days has varied considerably in Christian history. It is now usual in the West to count them continuously to the end of Holy Week (not including Sundays), so beginning Lent on the sixth Wednesday before Easter, Ash Wednesday. Liturgical dress is the simplest possible. Churches are kept bare of flowers and decoration. Gloria in Excelsis is not used. The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare or Refreshment Sunday) was allowed as a day of relief from the rigour of Lent, and the Feast of the Annunciation almost always falls in Lent; these breaks from austerity are the background to the modern observance of Mothering Sunday on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens; the readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death, and the reading of the Passion Narrative gave to the Fifth Sunday its name of Passion Sunday. There are many devotional exercises which may be used in Lent and Holy Week outside the set liturgy. The Stations of the Cross, made popular in the West by the Franciscans after they were granted custody of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, are the best known.

Prayers for the Seasons of Lent

Ash Wednesday
Holy God,
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos of sin
and through the death of your Son
bring us healing and make us whole
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The First Sunday of Lent
Heavenly Father,
your Son battled with the powers of darkness,
and grew closer to you in the desert:
help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer
that we may witness to your saving love
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Second Sunday of Lent
Almighty God,
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Third Sunday of Lent
Eternal God,
give us insight
to discern your will for us,
to give up what harms us,
and to seek the perfection we are promised
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Merciful Lord,
you know our struggle to serve you:
when sin spoils our lives
and overshadows our hearts,
come to our aid
and turn us back to you again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Mothering Sunday
God of love,
passionate and strong,
tender and careful:
watch over us and hold us
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Gracious Father,
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Palm Sunday
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.

Poems for the Seasons of Lent and Easter

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Resource created February 2012

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