“The liturgical year is the life of Christ lived out in liturgical time … from his Birth to the Passion, from his Death to the Resurrection, and from his Ascension to Pentecost.”

Fr. Samuel Weber, “Introduction to the Liturgical Year,” 11-12

On a Catholic Radio Program

The Roman Catholic liturgy is made up of sacred signs. Signs point to something beyond themselves. And in the liturgy, all the signs—the sounds, the smells, the sacred music, the vestments, the sacred art and architecture—point in some way to the mystery of Jesus Christ, our beloved Lord, God and man, who suffered, died, and was buried, and rose again for our salvation.

Now there are signs which are more than signs. We call these sacraments. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass contains the sacrament of sacraments, the Body and Blood of Our Lord., which are not merely a sign, but the Real Presence of Jesus. But there are many other sacred signs which, although they are not sacraments, help to dispose us to receive the grace of the sacraments. 

Think of holy water, which reminds us of our baptism, when we were cleansed from sin and born into the new life of grace. Holy water is a sign of our need today, and every day, for repentance, cleansing, redemption and grace. Or think of the ashes sprinkled on our heads at the beginning of Lent: “Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The ashes are a sign of our mortality, but also of life. On our own, we are only dust, but it is from this dust that Jesus raises up, making us participants in his glory, if we only allow our lives to be renewed through his mercy. 

The liturgical year is the Church living out of the life of Christ, from his Birth in Bethlehem to the Passion, from his Death on Calvary to the Resurrection, and from his Ascension into heaven to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The season of Lent corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism, praying and fasting, acquiring the strength to reject the temptations of Satan and to carry out his ministry of mercy. With Jesus, the Church enters the desert, praying, fasting, and doing works of mercy.

It is no coincidence that this season of Lent occurs in the spring, when the world is waking up again after a long winter. The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, yet in our churches things are more austere. We have no flowers, less music. The priest and the altar are dressed in somber violet vestments rather than joyful white or gold. The Passover is celebrated in spring, and the Lord’s Passion and death on the cross occurred on the Passover Sabbath. The spiritual significance is clear: through death to life. The natural world speaks of the eternal life to come, but the only way to that life is through a prior death. There is no Easter without Lent.

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