The Season of Lent

At an early date the last week of Lent, Holy Week, became distinct and focused on the last days of Christ’s life on earth. The week begins with Palm Sunday commemorating Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-9, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:21-38, John 12:12-18). The Last Supper with his disciples follows on Maundy Thursday, “Maundy” deriving from the Latin maundatum meaning “commandment”, referring to Christ’s mandate in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Good Friday, “good” because it is the day on which our redemption is realized, commemorates the details of The Passion of Christ, which includes his arrest, trial, death by crucifixion and burial. The word “passion” is derived from the Latin word passio, which means to suffer. Saturday quietly remembers Christ’s time in the tomb and the Easter Vigil after sundown on Saturday is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. Historically, it was during this liturgy that baptisms occurred and adult confirmands were received into the church.

Purple, denoting penance, sacrifice and preparation, is the color used for garments, altar hangings and the other beautiful silk brocade pieces used in most services during Lent. All crosses are wrapped in purple veils which offer an outward and visible reminder of the penitential nature of the season by obscuring the beautiful and holy images that inform our worship, thus reminding us that our sinful nature has obscured our vision of God’s truth.  Some churches, but not Christ Church, replace the purple with red on Good Friday representing God’s love, blood, fire and the sacrifices of martyrs. As in Advent, altar flowers are replaced during Lent by greens to reinforce the subdued simplicity of the season.

On Thursday evening at Christ Church following a service of Holy Eucharist the main altar is stripped of all hangings, candlesticks and worship books and the brass cross behind the main altar is replaced with a wooden cross which, like the chapel cross, is veiled in black, symbolizing grief and death. Greens are removed from both altars.

Lent ends and Easter begins with the Easter Vigil after sundown on Saturday when the first Eucharist since Maundy Thursday is celebrated. The color white is displayed on altars, in vestments and all other liturgical fabric accessories and continues to be used throughout the fifty days of the Easter season. White represents the color of Jesus’s burial cloth and is also the color of joy, celebration and peace. With gold it represents Christ’s incarnation into the world at Christmas and his triumph over death and evil at Easter. White is also used for weddings, baptisms and funerals. The day after the Easter Vigil is Easter Sunday; glorious spring flowers grace the altars and services rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ.

Emily Ragsdale