Lenten Directives for the Arlington Diocese

The Season of Lent, which we began on Ash Wednesday, is a pilgrimage that we travel together as a Church toward the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. We journey for 40 days and 40 nights in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This millennia old tradition has its roots in the 40 days and nights that the flood waters covered the earth, recalling the passage from death to life. It is rooted in the 40 days and nights that the Israelites ate manna in the desert which reminds us of God’s loving care for us. It has its roots in the 40 days and nights Moses prayed and fasted on Mount Sinai before God gave him the revelation of His Law, and His election of the nation of Israel as His people recalling for us the fact that God has chosen us to be members of His people. It recalls the 40 years the Chosen people wandered in the desert before entering the promised land recalling God’s fidelity to us. Finally, this 40-day period is rooted in the 40 days and nights Jesus prayed and fasted in the desert before beginning His ministry reminding us that we too have a mission to fulfill through our lives as Christians. I have promulgated various liturgical directives for Lent, Holy Week and Easter Time for the Diocese of Arlington. So that all may more fully participate in the Lenten pilgrimage, I publish the more pertinent parts of these directives. Lent The Lenten season has a double character, namely, to prepare catechumens (those unbaptized persons seeking to join the Catholic Church), candidates (those who have been baptized, and now wish to join the Catholic Church), and the faithful to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. Ash Wednesday The blessing and distribution of ashes takes place on the Wednesday before the First Sunday of Lent, normally during the celebration of Mass. After the opening hymn and greeting, the penitential rite is omitted and Mass begins with the opening prayer. The ashes are blessed and distributed after the readings and homily. The distribution concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful. Apart from Mass, the blessing and distribution of ashes takes place at a Liturgy of the Word according to the rite provided in The Book of Blessings. Lay ministers may assist in the distribution of ashes, but the blessing is reserved to a priest or deacon. When ashes are brought to the sick or shut-ins, an abbreviated rite including at least one scripture reading is used as provided in The Book of Blessings. Ash Wednesday is a day of penance observed by both fasting and abstinence from meat. The law of abstinence binds those 14 and older; the law of fasting binds those who are 18 years old but not yet 60. Penance The practice of penance forms a necessary part of the preparation for Easter. The whole season of Lent is a penitential time, Fridays particularly so, in which the faithful are encouraged to practice the virtues of prayer, fasting or other acts of self-denial, and works of mercy and charity. During Lent, "Alleluia" is omitted in all celebrations, even on solemnities and feasts. Apart from solemnities and the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the altar should not be decorated with flowers, and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to singing. The Stations of the Cross and other devotions that harmonize with the Lenten Season are encouraged. Frequent opportunities for the Sacrament of Penance should be provided throughout the Lenten Season. All the faithful are to be encouraged to approach the sacrament during this season. Communal penance services with individual confession and absolution are especially appropriate during Lent. Palm Sunday The solemn procession, in which the people assemble at a place apart from the Church for the blessing of palms and then process into the Church, may take place only once before the Mass that has the largest attendance. At the other Masses, either the simpler procession inside the Church or the simple entrance should be used. The Passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is, by three readers. The Passion may be proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by a lay reader. In the latter case, the part of Christ should be reserved to the priest. The Passion should be proclaimed in its entirety, and the readings that precede it should not be omitted. Since the Passion is the Gospel reading, the congregation should follow the normal posture of standing. Those who are unable to stand because of age, illness or some other good reason may be seated for the reading of the Passion. After the Passion has been proclaimed, a homily is to be given. Holy Thursday The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening, at a time convenient for the full participation of the community. The tabernacle should be completely empty beforehand. Hosts sufficient for the Communion of the faithful at this celebration and for the following day should be consecrated during that celebration. The Blessed Sacrament, under the form of bread alone, should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx, not exposed in a monstrance or paten. The Precious Blood is not reserved; it is to be completely consumed. The place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament should be adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer, mediation and that sobriety appropriate to the liturgy of these days. The washing of the feet represents the service and charity of Christ. This rite is optional, which means it may be omitted entirely. If used, however, it is to be celebrated according to the rubrics, which are set forth in the Sacramentary (p. 136); it may not be replaced by an alternate practice e.g. washing hands. The bishops of the United States have sought confirmation from the Holy See of a new translation of the Sacramentary and its rubrics which would expand this rite to include both men and women. The Holy See has not yet given the requested confirmation. If the Holy See responds affirmatively, our diocesan policy would be expanded to reflect the Holy See’s approval. At this time, however, the present discipline (of washing men’s feet) established in the current Sacramentary is to be maintained if the rite of washing of feet is celebrated. At the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is transferred in procession to the place of reservation. A suitable period of time should be allowed for the faithful to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, but there should be no solemn adoration after midnight. Good Friday Good Friday is a day of penance to be observed through abstinence and fasting. Except for the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick, celebration of the sacraments on this day is strictly prohibited. Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, though it may be brought at any time of the day to the sick who cannot take part in the celebration. It is recommended that, on this day and the next, the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated in the church with the participation of the people. Holy Saturday It is highly recommended that the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the people. On this day, the Church abstains strictly from celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum. Easter Sunday: The Vigil The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday. Therefore, in the Diocese of Arlington, the Easter Vigil may be scheduled no earlier than 8:30 p.m. Daylight Savings Time (or 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time). If there are catechumens present at the Easter Vigil, they are baptized and confirmed after baptism. Candidates for reception into full communion with the Church can make their profession of faith by joining the congregation in the renewal of the baptismal promises, and, if they have not yet been confirmed, they can receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is intimately connected with Baptism. After the liturgy of Baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist forms the fourth part of the Vigil and marks its high point. It is fitting that in the Communion of the Easter Vigil, full expression be given to the symbolism of the Eucharist, namely, that the faithful receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at that Mass and that they share in the chalice. Easter Day Mass should be celebrated on Easter Day with great solemnity. After the homily, instead of the Profession of Faith, the rite for the renewal of baptismal promises and the sprinkling of the people with the water blessed at the Vigil is celebrated. Easter Time The celebration of Easter is prolonged throughout the fifty days of the Easter Season. Those who have already been initiated into the Eucharist should be reminded of the meaning of the Church’s precept concerning the reception of Holy Communion during the Easter Season. Where possible, the custom of blessing houses in celebration of the resurrection is encouraged throughout this season. A rite for this blessing is provided in The Book of Blessings to be used by the priest or deacon when visiting families in their homes. This sacred period of 50 days concludes with Pentecost Sunday, when the gift of the Holy Spirit, the beginnings of the Church, and its mission to all peoples and nations are commemorated.

Copyright ?2001 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001