4 Ways to Get Out of Hiding and Make the Most of This Lent

Living Lent 2021 does not have to be a repeat of Lent 2020.

Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Feb. 17, 2021.
Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Feb. 17, 2021. (photo: Divisione Produzione Fotografica / Vatican Media/Catholic News Agency)

My parish adopted the ancient rite for distribution of ashes this year. That meant that rather than a large blackish cross traced on the forehead, ashes were sprinkled on top of parishioners’ heads in the form of a cross. In other words, for most people the “sign” of our Christian identity at the start of the 2021 Lenten season was hidden from public view. I have to say that this Ash Wednesday was the first time I sort of wished I were a bald man. 

This got me thinking. What other outward signs of the faith have been hidden during the COVID-19 pandemic? And, perhaps even more importantly, how can Catholics bring them back? Here are a few ideas:

 

1. Carry the intentions of the homebound to Mass.

It’s been almost a year since a pandemic-free public celebration of the Mass. Last March most Catholics were forced into liturgical darkness. Like many people, I livestreamed daily Mass in the living room. Often I caught myself thinking “Well, maybe I can just quickly change a load of laundry before the consecration.” (All right, “thinking” may be a more generous way of describing what actually happened. But I digress.)

I’m back to attending Mass daily. Some of my former pew buddies aren’t. While they are at home — perhaps joining in on their computer — I can carry with me their intentions. For those of us able to attend Mass in person, it’s a great blessing — and a great responsibility. 


2. Invite someone to Mass.

I was recently chatting with the father of my youngest daughter’s friend. They are members of the Presbyterian church in town. He told me sadly, “This past Christmas was the first time we didn’t attend church service as a family. And most Sundays we aren’t able to register in time.” My heart broke. And then I immediately rattled off the Mass times at my parish. It was my “Catholic moment.” 

 

3. Encourage communal praying of the Stations of the Cross.

During Lent, many parishes host Friday night Soup Suppers where parishioners gather and share homemade, meatless soup for an evening meal. Praying the Stations of the Cross typically follows. This was a normal Friday evening plan during Lent for my family. With restrictions on large gatherings, the suppers are probably nixed. But praying the Stations on Friday — as a parish community, group of friends or just as a family — can still happen. 

Last Sunday in the parking lot, I mentioned praying the Stations on Friday to a new family in the parish. Once I finish writing down this blog, I’m going to text them with a firm invitation. 

 

4. Take a (virtual) trip to Rome to visit the Station Churches.

And speaking of Stations, why not take a trip to the “Station Churches” in Rome — virtually? Visiting each of these churches in Rome during Lent is a sacred tradition — one that seemed all but forgotten until seminarians began walking the pilgrim’s road to celebrate Mass each morning of Lent at a stational church in the 1970s.

A few years ago George Weigel, his son Stephen and noted art historian Elizabeth Lev wrote Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches. The book’s “itinerary of conversion” combines history, the richness of art and architecture, and the liturgical rhythm and readings of the Lenten season. My plan last year was to read The Station Churches each morning before Mass during Lent, knowing that jetting off to Rome for the season was not in the cards. Well, things got a little crazy and my dedication to reading this pilgrim’s guide was haphazard. Not this Lent. I’m all in.

(You can pick up the book from Bookshop.org or Amazon.com.)

Over the past few months we have all become a bit like hermits. But many of the outward signs of our Catholic faith need not be hidden. Living Lent 2021 does not have to be a repeat of Lent 2020. I know that I need this time of prayer and sacrifice to change me, but it’s not going to happen unless I participate actively. And get out of hiding.