Traditionally the Fifth Sunday of Lent is called First Passion Sunday or First Sunday of the Passion. “Passiontide” begins. It is also known as Iudica Sunday, from the first word of the Introit of Mass (from Psalm 42/41), and sometimes Repus (from repositus, analogous to absconditus, “hidden”) because crosses and other images in churches are to be veiled. From today, in the Extraordinary Form, the “Iudica” psalm is no longer said during the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria Patri is dropped at the conclusion of certain prayers.
Speaking of veiling images, during Lent, and even before, Holy Church undergoes liturgical death. On the traditional pre-Lent Sundays, purple is worn and the Alleluia is omitted. From Ash Wednesday onwards we exclude instrumental music, and decorations such as flowers are removed. On First Passion Sunday statues and images are draped, and prayers at the beginning of Mass are cut down. On Holy Thursday, the Eucharist is removed, the altar stripped and holy water stoops emptied. After the special Gloria on Thursday, harsh wooden noisemakers replace the silenced bells.
On Good Friday there is no Mass, though we can receive Communion. On Saturday there isn’t even Communion. Since the Vigil Mass of Easter is not supposed to start until night begins, there isn’t even any light. The Church is dark and dead and in the tomb with the Lord. Suddenly there is a spark in the darkness and she liturgically bursts into life again.
The whole season of Lent is a transforming mystery, a “sacrament”, as St Leo the Great (d 461) called it, during which our practices have consequential effects: they bring us into the mystery of the dying and rising Jesus. The Latin sacramentum translates the Greek mysterion. This transforming Lenten experience with Christ is brought about through mortifications and denial of self, good works for others both spiritual and corporal, and through full, conscious and actual participation in sacred liturgical worship.
Sacramental reality is no less real than the sensible reality we normally pay attention to. When we participate actively in Lenten practices God the Father conforms us to His Son who died and rose. During Lent each year the Church conforms herself to the dying and rising Jesus. We need our sacred worship to bring us into an encounter with transforming mystery. Go to Confession and plan to participate fully in Holy Week. We are our rites.
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