Reading the pastoral notes for Lent in the Ordo (the Liturgical Calendar) the other day, we noticed something we hadn’t noticed clearly enough before: that the reason the baptized pray and do penance in Lent is to be able to renew their baptismal vows at the vigil (Congregation for Divine Worship, “Preparation and Celebration of the East Feasts,” January 16, 1988, No. 2). Why would we need to prepare just to answer a few questions about our belief in God and rejection of sin with “I do”?
Perhaps the answer lies in our slowness to embrace and claim the dignity of baptism that each of us has received. It doesn’t take much looking around to notice how little likeness of God there is in human—and Christian—behaviour. Yet, becoming members of Christ’s faithful (lay or ordained) through baptism, we rejoice that we have been made new, signs of God’s love for others. The Christian community is supposed to be the place where all can see clearly and experience powerfully the love of God for all creatures.
So, how do we move from the dreadful reality of our sinfulness to the community of “little Christs” that the baptized have become? Enter the role of prayer and penance, but with a special focus. Thinking of these tools not so much as punishments for all the bad things we’ve done through the year but as exercises to help us realize our own wonderful God-given dignity—both through the first creation, and through the new creation in baptism—helps us to engage in them with joyful hearts, remembering that we are worth loving. Through prayer, we allow God to engage us in conversation. Through penance, we focus on others and, in this, imitate God who loved us enough to die for us. If practice makes perfect, with what joy will our “I do’s!” emerge at Easter!
Antal and Christine are a married couple. Antal is the director of Social Justice for the Diocese of Calgary and co-founder, with Christine, of STEP Group, a theological consulting company.