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You are here: Rubrics & Law > Liturgical Seasons > Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts  Back one page.

Table of Contents
Table of ContentsPrefaceII. Holy WeekEndnotes

I. Lenten Season

6. "The annual lenten season is the fitting time to climb the Holy mountain of Easter.

"The lenten season has a double character, namely, to prepare both catechumens and faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery. The catechumens both with the rite of election and scrutinies, and by catechesis, are prepared for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation; the faithful ever more attentive to the word of God and prayer, prepare themselves by penance for the renewal of their baptismal promises." [6]

A. Concerning the Rite of Christian Initiation

7. The whole rite of Christian initiation has a markedly paschal character, since it is therein that the sacramental participation in the death and resurrection of Christ takes place for the first time. Therefore, Lent should have its full character as a time of purification and enlightenment, especially through the scrutinies and by the presentations; naturally the paschal Vigil should be regarded as the proper time to celebrate the sacraments of initiation. [7]

8. Communities that do not have any catechumens should not, however, fail to pray for those who in the forthcoming paschal Vigil will receive the sacraments of Christian initiation. Pastors should draw the attention of the faithful to those moments of significant importance in their spiritual life, which are nourished by their baptismal profession of faith, and which they will be invited to renew in the Easter Vigil - "the fullness of the lenten observance." [8]

9. In Lent, there should be catechesis for those adults who, although baptized when infants, were not brought up in the faith and, consequently, have not been confirmed nor have they received the Eucharist. During this period, penitential services should be arranged to help prepare them for the sacrament of reconciliation. [9]

10. The lenten season is also an appropriate time for the celebration of penitential rites on the model of the scrutinies for unbaptized children who are at an age to be catechized and also for children already baptized, before being admitted to the sacrament of penance. [10]

The bishop should have particular care to foster the catechumenate of both adults and children and, according to circumstances, to preside at the prescribed rites, with the devout participation of the local community. [11]

B. Celebrations during the Lenten Season

11. The Sundays of Lent take precedence over all feasts and all solemnities. Solemnities occurring on these Sundays are observed on the preceding Saturday. [12] The weekdays of Lent have precedence over obligatory memorials. [13]

12. The catechesis on the paschal mystery and the sacraments should be should be given a special place in the Sunday homilies. The text of the Lectionary should be carefully explained, particularly the passages of the Gospel that illustrate the diverse aspects of baptism and the other sacraments and the mercy of God.

13. Pastors should frequently and as fully as possible explain the word of God in homilies on weekdays, in celebrations of the word of God, in penitential celebrations, [14] in various reunions, in visiting families, or on the occasion of blessing families. The faithful should try and attend weekday Mass and where this is not possible they should at least be encouraged to read the lessons, either with their family or in private.

14. "The lenten season should retain something of its penitential character." [15] "As regards catechesis, it is important to impress on the minds of the faithful not only the social consequences of sin but also that aspect of the virtue of penance, which involves the detestation of sin as an offense against God." [16]

The virtue and practice of penance form a necessary part of the preparation for Easter. From that inner conversion of heart should spring the practice of penance, both for the individual Christian and the whole community; which while being adapted to the conditions of the present time should nevertheless witness to the evangelical spirit of penance and also be to the advantage of others.

The role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be neglected and encouragement is to be given to pray for sinners. This intention should be included in the prayer of the faithful. [17]

15. "The faithful are to be encouraged to participate in an ever more intense and fruitful way in the lenten liturgy and in penitential celebrations. They are to be clearly reminded that both according to the law and tradition, they should approach the sacrament of penance during this season, so that with purified heart they may participate in the paschal mysteries. It is appropriate that during Lent the sacrament of penance be celebrated according to the rite for the reconciliation of several penitents with individual confession and absolution, as given in the Roman Ritual." [18]

Pastors should devote themselves to the ministry of reconciliation and provide sufficient time for the faithful to avail themselves of this sacrament.

16. "All lenten observances should be of such a nature that they also witness to the life of the local Church and foster it. The Roman tradition of the 'stational' churches can be recommended as a model for gathering the faithful in one place. In this way, the faithful can assemble in larger numbers, especially under the leadership of the bishop of the diocese, or at the tombs of the saints, or in the principle churches of the city or sanctuaries, or some place of pilgrimage which has a special significance for the diocese." [19]

17. "In Lent, the altar should not be decorated with flowers, and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to the singing." [20] This is in order that the penitential character of the season be preserved.

18. Likewise, from the beginning of Lent until the Paschal Vigil, "Alleluia" is to be omitted in all celebrations, even on solemnities and feasts. [21]

19. The chants to be sung in celebrations, especially of the Eucharist, and also at devotional exercises should be in harmony with the spirit of the season and the liturgical texts.

20. Devotional exercises that harmonize with the lenten season are to be encouraged, for example, "The Stations of the Cross." They should help foster the liturgical spirit with which the faithful can prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ's paschal mystery.

C. Particular Details Concerning the Days of Lent

21. "On the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent, the faithful receive the ashes, thus entering into the time established for the purification of their souls. This sign of penance, a traditionally biblical one, has been preserved among the Church's customs until the present day. It signifies the human condition of the sinner, who seeks to express his guilt before the Lord in an exterior manner, and by so doing express his interior conversion, led on by the confident hope that the Lord will be merciful. This same sign marks the beginning of the way of conversion, which is developed through the celebration of the sacraments of penance during the days before Easter." [22]

The blessing and imposition of ashes should take place either in the Mass or outside of the Mass. In the latter case, it is to be part of a liturgy of the word and conclude with the prayer of the faithful. [23]

22. Ash Wednesday is to be observed as a day of penance in the whole Church, one of both abstinence and fasting. [24]

23. The first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual lenten observance. [25] In the Mass of this Sunday, there should be some distinctive elements that underline this important moment (e.g., the entrance procession with litanies of the saints). [26] During the Mass of the first Sunday in Lent, the bishop should celebrate the rite of election in the cathedral or in some other church, as seems appropriate. [27]

24. The Gospel periscopes of the Samaritan woman, of the man blind from birth, and the resurrection of Lazarus are assigned to the III, IV, and V Sundays of Lent of year A. Of particular significance in relation to Christian initiation, they can also be read in years B and C, especially in places where there are catechumens. [28]

On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare, and in solemnities and feasts, musical instruments may be played and the altar decorated with flowers. Rose colored vestments may be worn on this Sunday. [29]

26. The practice of covering the crosses and images in the church may be observed, if the episcopal conference should so decide. The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord's passion on Good Friday. Images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. [30]

Table of ContentsPrefaceII. Holy WeekEndnotes

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