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Lent: a call to conversion

February 23, 2009

by Father Bill Sprigler, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Winsted

Over the years that I have been a priest, I have been asked a lot of questions, for example, “What is Lent, and what does the word Lent mean?”

Lent is a call to conversion. It is from the Anglo-Saxon word “lengten,” which means spring (from Modern Catholic Dictionary by John Hardon, S.J.).

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and ends with the Liturgy of Holy Saturday Night. The Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D., determined that Easter should be celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. To determine the beginning of Lent, count back six Sundays before Easter. The Wednesday before the first of these Sundays is Ash Wednesday.

The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and alm giving. We, here in Winsted, are blessed with having outside Stations of the Cross.

Since the first century, Christians have been making pilgrimages to the land where Jesus lived. St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, made a famous pilgrimage in the fourth century, trying to identify where Jesus was born, died, and was buried. For a short time after 1199, when the crusaders captured Jerusalem and nearby territory, visiting these sites was easier. After the crusaders lost this territory in 1291, pilgrimages became much more dangerous and expensive.

The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, bring the Holy Land both to people unable to travel there, and to those who have made that pilgrimage.

Saint Francis of Assisi had two great devotions – Jesus’ Incarnation and His passion, symbolized in the crib and the cross. The Franciscan friars popularized the Way of the Cross devotion, starting in the 14th century. People erected small stations inside churches and sometimes, life-size ones outdoors. Soon, almost all churches had a Way of the Cross.

The number of stations and the events commemorated have varied over the centuries. Pope Clement XII (1730-40) fixed the present number and list. Whether you pray the Stations alone or with a group of people, in a parish church or outdoors, this devotion makes Jesus’ passion and death very real.

During Lent, we, at Holy Trinity celebrate the Way of the Cross each Friday during Lent. I welcome everyone to join us for this prayer, or if you are out walking, go pass the Stations on the outside. Stop at each one and meditate on the love that our God has for us.

God, the Father created us and in His infinite love gave us His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us. God the Son, in obedience to His Father, became human, taught us about the love the Father has for us, and then suffered and died on the cross for us. God the Holy Spirit was sent to us by the Father and Son to be with us until the end of time.

May you have a blessed and holy Lent. Let us pray for one another and when possible, reach out and help the poor. Please remember, whatever we do out of love for God, we do to Christ.