It is good to remember that in the early Church the main purpose of Lent was to prepare the catechumens, the newly-converted Christians, for baptism which was performed during Paschal Vigil. Even for those of us who are baptized, Easter is our return every year to our baptism, and Lent is a preparation for that return – the slow sustained effort to perform our own pass-over into new life as Christians.
Lent means Spring and our Lenten effort is a spiritual Spring; it is there to help us recover the vision and taste of that new life into which Easter introduces us, the new life of Christ. From that perspective Lent is not about moral improvement, greater control of passions, personal self-perfecting, but a deeper partaking in the great and all-embracing mystery of Christ.
Yet the old life is not easily overcome or changed. This is what Lent makes us face. Lent is a school of conversion. In Lent we are tuning up our instrument. Now tuning up is more a duty than delight. The tuning up of the orchestra can be itself delightful, but only to those who can, in some measure, however little, anticipate the symphony. Our Lenten practices are like the tuning up. They are the promise not the performance. Hence like the tuning, they may feel more like duty than delight. But the duty exists for the delight. The fasting exists for the feasting:
“When we carry out our religious duties we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last the water comes, it may find them ready. [But] there are happy moments, even now, when a trickle creeps along the dry beds…”
(CS Lewis, The Psalms, p82).
More from Sr Mary David later in the week, she is a Benedictine nun of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, Isle of Wight, where she serves her Community as Prioress and Novice Mistress.