For many, Lent is a time of giving up candy or chocolate or pizza. It is a time of personal discipline, a time to focus on priorities. Such practices are praiseworthy but Vatican II reminds us that Lent is more: “The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery . . . . During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 109; 110). Indeed, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which reaches its climax in Lent and Easter, holds in no. 7 that “the whole initiation must bear a markedly paschal character.”
Of course, the paschal mystery concerns the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, an event celebrated with special solemnity in the Triduum that is just around the corner. This dying and rising concerns not only the conquest of sin and death with respect to “me,” but with respect to all. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” These words on the lips of the Johannine Jesus (12:32), indicate a communal dimension to the paschal mystery as a “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).
That this communion may come to be requires that members of the communion die to themselves. The 1983 document Music in Catholic Worship points out that “to live and worship in community often demands a personal sacrifice” (no. 18). An element of this sacrifice is indicated in Isaiah 58, a passage featured during the daily Mass on 8 March:
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
These and similar activities preserve and promote the vitality of human communities. When we who are baptized think about Lent as preparation for Easter, let us think as well of how our penitential actions shape a community that is truly worthy of the aspirations of those who will be joining us at the table for the first time at Easter. Even if one’s parish has no one preparing for initiation this year, one can still join in the wider solidarity of the one Body of Christ striving to be ever more truly what it is.