Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Preparing for Lent

* I usually do a quotation series for Lent, usually of Doctors of the Church. Last year, I did one on the sacraments, which worked out fairly nicely, so I think I'm going to try to do another thematic series. And, having done the sacraments last year, it makes sense to do the foundation of the sacraments this year -- the Life of Christ. Both Aquinas and Bonaventure have notable, important, and often overlooked discussions of that topic specifically, and, of course, it comes up elsewhere. It's a harder topic to do in an organized way, but we'll see how it works out.

* How many days are in Lent? The answer is that there is no definite answer. The Church has more than one liturgical calendar. The Maronite calendar, for instance, begins Lent on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, or else the next day, Ash Monday, depending on exactly how you count the first day; the Roman calendar on Ash Wednesday; the Ambrosian calendar (which preserves an older practice than the Roman Rite here) on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday. We often say 'forty days', but this is a round number; the Roman Lent does not have forty but forty-three or forty-four, depending on how you count the final day as Lent turns to Triduum. One of the funniest things about the whole thing is that Lent is so associated with 'forty days' people will refuse to believe it is not exactly forty days, and will continue to refuse to believe it even if you count the days with them, and come up with elaborate epicycles to get the count back to exactly forty. The most popular epicycles, of course, are counting back from Easter -- despite the fact that this mistakenly counts Triduum as part of Lent -- and skipping Sundays -- despite the fact that Sundays in Lent are in Lent; sometimes people will count Lent only to Palm Sunday even though Lent extends into Holy Week. (The latter, although less common, at least makes more sense than the former, since although Holy Week is actually split between Lent and Triduum, Holy Week itself functions more or less as if it were its own liturgical season.) It's not surprising -- even if it is really a round number, 'forty days' is integral to the conception of Lent, which is why many languages give it a name that references it in some way -- Quadragesima (lit. 'fortieth'), Tessarakoste, Sarakosti, CarĂªme, Quaresima, Cuaresma, Korizma, Kuwaresma, Tsome Arba.

* When it's not named in reference to the forty days, Lent is usually named in terms of fasting: Velyky Pist, Fastenzeit, Fastetid, etc. An unusual case, but still related, is found in Maltese: Randan. Maltese is, of course, a descendent of Arabic, although highly latinized; the word comes from Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Some people think Ramadan was itself an adaptation of the Christian practice of Lent, which would make it a big cycle, but in any case, 'Randan' became attached to Lent because of the fast.

English 'Lent' is unusual; it originally just meant 'spring' or 'March'.

* Ashes on Ash Wednesday is a Western practice; the only churches that have a regular Lenten imposition of Ashes are the Latin, the Maronite, and the Syro-Malabar, and the latter two (who usually do it on Monday rather than Wednesday) got it from the Latin Church and just kept it because it was popular. We finicky moderns associate ashes with dirtiness, but historically ashes are a symbol of cleanness. Cinders are dirty, ashes are pure. (Cinderella should be called Ashenella, because she is associated with the purity of ashes, not with cinders.) Ashes are what you have when fire burns all the way through; ashes are even used to make soap to clean things, since it's a natural source of lye.

* From the Hoosoyo (Prayer of Forgiveness) of the Maronite liturgy for the First Weekday Cycle of Lent (and thus celebrated on Ash Monday and, when liturgies are celebrated on Ash Wednesday in Maronite Churches, for Ash Wednesday as well):

O Christ, Lover of all people, you gave the Church the holy season of Lent as a shield of protection and a healing remedy. Your fasting and sacrifices taught us to fast, and to understand the purpose and essence of life, the meaning of the world and its existence, and the greatness of your love and compassion. Shower your mercy on all people that they may repent, and soften their hearts that they may return to you, know you, and love you.