As you read these words, if your issue of The Anchor has arrived on time, the Lenten season has ended. We are now celebrating the Triduum, the most Sacred days of our Church year. It begins with the Mass on Holy Thursday, continues with the Liturgical celebrations of Good Friday and it concludes with the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.
There are those who await the end of Lent to be able to drink that can of soda they have sacrificed all during Lent. Perhaps they eagerly await the first candy or first desert since Ash Wednesday. Maybe a return to the drinking of alcohol or smoking of cigarettes will begin. Those seemingly long 40 days “giving up” is over.
Lent is such a special time in the Church. It encourages us to grow closer to the Lord through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The special graces of the Lenten season are felt as we, along with the entire Church, travel the same path to perfection.
You can note a more serious attempt to grow in God’s love and grace. Mass attendance increases. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross are encouraged and many attend. Many make an effort to go to Confession during Lent.
At St. Mary’s we have a noon Mass which allows many who cannot attend a morning Mass to come to Mass during Lent. Daily we have had more than 100 people present at Mass.
Although we did not have a deanery retreat, I invited other parishes to join our parish retreat. Many took the advantage to attend Mass at noon or in the evening. Confessions were heard one hour before Mass and many made their Lenten Confession during the mission. Other deaneries, I am sure, had similar experiences.
As I reflect on this, two observations come to mind.
The first is that the age of those observing Lent in an outward manner (attending services) is middle-age and beyond. While one cannot calculate the personal observance of Lent or the familial celebration, the average age of those attending these missions and Lenten devotions are older. While there is nothing wrong with that, and it is appreciated that they respond so well, the younger Church does not seem to be as interested, as involved.
A few years ago, we attempted as a deanery to address this issue. We ended up having an afternoon which was basically a chastity talk by a well-known speaker. Confirmation candidates were to be invited for this time of reflection. While it was informative, it did not engage our younger Church members. They were not encouraged to witness to what they believe.
There are programs which reach out to our youth such as conventions and rallies. Other programs are available such as the YES! retreat and CLI. These encourage young adults.
Possibly the younger people are so engaged with other distractions, like sports and high school requirements, that the faith aspect of their life is not that important. Added to this is the fact that many young people are not supported in their faith at home.
Perhaps a better use of modern communication tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where most young people are connected, could encourage and engage them. Recently we have learned how some terrorist groups seem to be very successful by their use of the social media.
I pray the Holy Spirit will enlighten us to be able to reach out and engage the younger Church.
The second observation is that it is all over on Easter. How sad. The extra effort to grow in the knowledge of Christ seems to end with Easter. Those who made attempts to attend Mass more frequently, stop attending. Those who made the effort to read, study, attend a Church mission or Lenten service, stop when Lent is over. Those who choose to devote extra time to prayer or Spiritual reading, for the most part, do not continue after Lent is over.
During Lent we seek to advance in our knowledge and love of God; to see Him as a friend. If you have met a friend and have been able to know that friend better, why would you end that growth in your friendship on a certain day or at a certain time?
It is my hope that those who have celebrated the Lenten season well, will continue to celebrate their closeness to the Lord. I pray that those who have grown closer to the Lord will continue to deepen their relationship, their friendship.
The Easter season begins, our outreach to the younger Church should continue. The Easter season begins and our growth in the faith should not end. It should be revitalized with the new life that Easter symbolizes.
Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.