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The Easter Triduum begins on Holy Thursday and concludes with the Eucharist of Easter Sunday. The Easter Vigil, celebrated on Holy Saturday, begins at night with the lighting of the new fire, ideally outdoors, a reminder that we are moving from death to new life! In the early Church it was indeed a vigil; the congregation slept over for the three days of the Triduum; they came in and out of the assembly, stopping to eat and sleep as needed. Traditionally on Holy Thursday, the catechumens—those who had spent the Lenten season fasting and in penance seeking to enter the community—gathered with the deacon at a source of living water, such as a lake, river, or sea. The catechumens would be stripped naked and submerged in the water and held down, symbolic of dying to a former way of life. As each rose up from the water, the deacon would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father?” The catechumen would answer yes and be dunked again. Then he or she would be asked, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son?” The catechumen would respond, “I do,” and be dunked a third time. Finally, the catechumen would be asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” After responding, “I do,” the catechumen would come out of the water and be wrapped in a white, towel-like garment (the white symbolizing peace; baptism removes all sin and gives us peace). Then the deacon and the newly baptized would process into the midst of the community gathered in prayer with the bishop. The bishop would anoint the catechumen with oil in front of the community, confirming in public what had been done in private at the water source. The newly baptized and confirmed would then join the community for the remainder of the Eucharist. Remember that in our time during Lent the catechumens leave Mass before the Gospel and do not participate in the Eucharist. The sacraments of initiation would be then completed.
 
The Liturgy of the Word at the vigil is long; there are many readings telling the entire story of our salvation history. It starts with Genesis from the Hebrew Scriptures and ends with Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The gospel reading is the story of the resurrection.
 
Many churches celebrate the Easter Vigil in two or three languages to acknowledge the demographics of the community. We are one Church, one Body of Christ, no matter what our language.
 
The Easter Vigil is our most sacred liturgical feast and celebration. It celebrates God’s unconditional love and our long history of articulating that love in sign and symbol, word, and song. Knowing why these symbols are used encourages us to reflect on their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual meaning in our daily lives. May we truly rejoice this Easter!
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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That we may grow in our desire to give ourselves over in love to God and God’s people as we pray for and reflect on the grace to let ourselves be loved.
 
Gracious and compassionate God,
as your Christian people,
we have been signed with the cross of your Son.
Place us once again near the cross of Jesus
to learn the lessons you long to teach.
Continue to re-form us by the life, death, and rising
of the Master who called us “friends.”
Stir in us the memory and power of his life.
May the gospel we cherish
become the sacred gift out of which
we fashion our lives anew.
We pray for wholeness
for ourselves and for our Church.
Do not allow our fears or resistance
to limit the power of your Spirit.
Bring forth in us the new life
that you see bound up
within our ignorance and pride.
Weep with us and over us again
until we unleash the contagion of your love,
and release those bound
by their own fears or others’ greed.
Make us eager to be among your people
as those who serve in love.
Through, with, and in Jesus, we give you thanks,
O lover of us all and giver of our loving. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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That we may discover new reverence for the mystery of the Communion of Saints which transcends time and space to unite us with one another.
 
O Holy Trinity, God of love,
breathe in us, move among us,
gather us into you.
Resettle us on the soil of our earth
to free one another
through the mutual exchange of the varied gifts
with which you bless us.
Unbind us from our fears,
unite us in our shared sorrows,
enlarge us with the deep and simple sharing of our joys.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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That we may discover new areas or old resistances in our lives in need of God’s renewing touch. That we may let ourselves be healed and grow to greater wholeness for the glory of God and the sake of our world’s salvation.
 
Light of Truth, Beacon of Hope, Fire of Love,
in your light we see light.
Without you, we grope in darkness and shadows.
Be with us, Radiant God.
Give us new eyes,
that we may see the sufferings of others
and our tendency to be comfortable with injustice.
Give us new eyes,
that we may glimpse our own self-righteousness
and the self-interest that strangles compassion.
Give us new eyes,
that we may recognize you
in the face of the stranger,
the outcast, the haughty,
and serve you in serving them.
Give us new eyes,
that we may look on the world
that God so loves
with forgiveness, patience, and hope.
Give us your eyes,
O Light of Truth,
Beacon of Hope,
Fire of Love,
Christ, our Savior and Brother. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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Gift us with greater freedom and simplicity in coming to know ourselves as beloved children, loved unconditionally by the God from whom we have nothing to hide.
 
Fountain of Life, Flood of Forgiveness,
Overflowing Cup of Mercy,
we drink from you, O Holy One.
You make our dry hearts moist again,
bring us back to life, and stand us up in grace
Confidently and joyfully, we look forward to the day
when we will become all that God has intended for us.
To this end, the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts in love.
If only we knew the gift we have been given.
O Spirit of Wisdom, teach us how to unfold.
You, who know us better than we know ourselves,
disclose us to ourselves.
Safely sheltered in you,
may we discover your merciful gaze
loving us in all those places
where we find it difficult to love ourselves.
O tender God, send us out to love others
from that place of mercy where you bathe us all.
We praise you and thank you for the gifts we can scarcely
understand and only barely imagine,
through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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“The Church is essentially human and divine,
visible but endowed with invisible realities…”
Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), 2

 
The Catholic Church has traditionally relied upon symbols and sensual experience in order to convey the truths of its greatest mysteries including Christ’s Incarnation, his Crucifixion and Resurrection, the resurrection of the faithful at the end of time, the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine, the power of prayer, and the sacredness of all of creation.
 
The Lenten season and its liturgies provide us with ordinary elements and materials of life that point to deeper religious meanings.
 
Water—On the Third Sunday of Lent we hear the story of the Samaritan woman who is ultimately thirsting for new life but asks Jesus merely for a drink. He invites her to a new understanding of living water that goes beyond the literal, beyond what she can see and touch. We are reminded of the embryonic water of our mother’s womb, the baptismal water that made each of us a child of God and disciple of Christ, and the water in the font where we dip our hand as we enter the church and sign ourselves with the cross. Increase our thirst for you, O God.
 
Light and Darkness—On the Fourth Sunday of Lent we hear of the man born blind. There are many allusions to seeing and blindness in this reading, to choosing light or living in the dark. For many of us, judging by appearances is the primary obstacle to seeing the light. Sometimes clinging to our own partial piece of the truth and refusing to listen to God’s voice in another person highlights our blindness in everyday experiences. We need desperately to be healed of the blindness of our resistance, the prejudices that exclude others from our circles, our inability to see as God sees. Help us to see as you see, O God.
 
Bindings—The Fifth Sunday of Lent we meet Lazarus bound and already buried. In response to the request of his sisters, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the grave to new life. For Christians, the cycle of dying and rising characterizes all of life. Each night we close our eyes and die to the day; each morning we rise to a new day of possibilities. Each spring we bury seeds in the ground only to see them burst forth as flowers and fruits, vegetables and grain. The risen life does not begin simply after we die. Eternal life breaks into time. There is so much more to life than we can see; there is so much more to love than we can hold; there is so much more to our intimate belonging to each other than we can contain. Symbols can help. When the eternity of God invades our mortal time-bound bodies, loosens our bindings, and sets us free, we begin to live as resurrected people. O God, set us free.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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That we may understand more deeply the transforming power of God active in our lives. That we may let ourselves be amazed by wonder while committed to work for justice.
 
God of mountaintop experiences
and God who accompanies us down the mountain,
walk with us again.
You invite us to a place apart.
Do you want to show us Jesus’ “face dazzling as the sun”?
Is it your desire that we, too, be overcome with your glory
and utterly amazed?
Place us near your Son.
Let the Spirit of Jesus shine on us
and teach us to recognize your voice
in the cries of your “beloved” poor and suffering today.
Make us people of vision,
willing to wait and suffer
until the gift of new life is available to all
your dearly loved children, our brothers and sisters.
May your vision for our world be revealed more clearly to us
as we pray and share.
Transform us through his Spirit
into your image and likeness, the Body of Christ,
still growing to full stature. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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Lead us to greater self-understanding and to reverence anew God’s way of leading us to our deepest peace and truest potential through life’s rhythm of joy and struggle.
 
Tender God of the garden and the desert,
you give life graciously as overflowing gift.
You pour out your lavish grace on us
even when we see and feel you not.
Give us the courage
to let ourselves be led by you
to those places and persons
where you wait to meet us.
Open our hearts and our lives
to your quiet and unsettling stirrings.
Come to us in both the ache and the awe
of our human journeys.
In the company of one another,
deepen our faith to see
that in each discovery of our true selves,
we discover you, and each time we recognize you, our Father,
we come to know a little more of our true selves.
We place ourselves in one another’s keeping
and together praise you, through, with,
and in the Spirit of Jesus, now and forever. Amen.
 

 
 
Excerpted from
Lenten Longings – Year A: Let Yourself Be…, available from RENEW International

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“Lent” is an Old English word for springtime. It is an appropriate word because as the season of spring prepares the earth to break forth into new life the season of Lent is a time to prepare to break forth, spiritually, into new life. As a gardener I love this image. Removing rocks from the soil, pulling out weeds, nurturing the soil with supplements, planting something new — these all remind us that we are not perfect and are always in need of conversion, of and renewing again and again our commitment to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of the season of Lent.
 
Historically, Lent was a 40-day retreat for those adults who were choosing to become committed disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. In the early church, those who wanted to become members—the catechumens—gathered for a year or two with those who were already committed to Jesus Christ. The catechumens learned the stories, participated in the Liturgy of the Word, and learned the way of being Christian. At the Easter Vigil they would be formally and completely initiated into the community. In preparation for this reception at the Easter Vigil, catechumens would enter into a more intense 40-day time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — Lent. On the Thursday before Easter, the community would gather with the bishop in the place of worship. As they gathered and prayed, the catechumens and a deacon would go to a place of living water (a lake or river) where they would enter the water. The deacon would submerge each catechumen’s head in the water and as he assisted the person up, would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father?” He would repeat this submerging twice more asking, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ his only Son? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” The catechumens would then be wrapped in white garments and brought into the waiting assembly (baptism). Here the bishop as the leader of the community would generously pour blessed oil over the head of the newly baptized adult, (origin of the sacrament of confirmation), confirming in public what had been ritualized at the water. The bishop would then continue with the liturgy. At Communion the newly baptized and confirmed persons would receive the Eucharist for the first time, completing the sacraments of initiation.
 
Baptism and the sacraments of initiation for adults are best celebrated at the Easter Vigil where the whole story of salvation is told (seven readings from Hebrew and Christian Scriptures) and the already baptized Christians renew their baptismal promises.
 
Baptism of infants is best celebrated at Sunday Mass where the community gathers.
 
For your reflection:
1. What are the rocks and/or weeds that you need to remove from your life this Lent? How will you do this?
2. Rather than give up something this Lent, secretly do something for someone in need.
3. Find out who is receiving the sacraments of initiation in your parish this Easter and pray for them by name; maybe send them cards telling them this.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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The_Road_Not_TakenSpiritual writers speak of becoming holy as “willing the one thing.” For me, this means being focused on God’s will and way and not my own. God’s will is always for us to choose the most loving and compassionate way which is often the most difficult one. Acts of self-denial are the pavers that line the path of discipleship. Lent is a season that offers us a choice of paths to follow. We can continue living as usual or we can choose to use the time to live the gospel more fully. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems, The Road
Not Taken
by Robert Frost:

I shall be telling with this sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

When the Scriptures speak of denying ourselves, they usually mean we are to deny that part of ourselves that leads to sin, to be anything other than who we truly are. Other times we deny ourselves not as an avoidance of sin but as a sacrifice out of love. Self-denial is not part of our culture’s image of the “good life.” But neither is Jesus’ call to deny oneself to be understood as self-abasement or giving up things for just for the sake of doing it. Just giving up things does not make us Christian; it will only make us bitter and empty.
 
Pope Francis in his Lent 2014 message reminds us: “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
 
Before making that next purchase, reacting to someone who has hurt you, looking away from the suffering eyes of a hungry child, or avoiding the grief of a neighbor or friend, ask yourself this fundamental question: Is this who God created me to be? Is this the most loving way? It is not always easy to choose the path of discipleship. We don’t know whether the poet chose the right path but we do know that for us the path of discipleship—the road of self-denial for the sake of love of God and love of neighbor—can make all the difference.
 
Sr. Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“Is that all there is?” asks the song of the ‘60s. It is a fact that so many are longing for more—more time, more peace, more health, etc. What is it that you long for? Lent is a time when Catholics traditionally have fasted and prayed with the hope that they would have time to think about the more important things in life. Why not try something different for Lent? In your parish, you can have the opportunity to gather in small groups of eight to ten people, once a week for six weeks starting the week of Ash Wednesday. When the small groups gather, members read Scripture, pray, and share their faith. This experience can provide more than you can imagine. You will not be sorry.
 
Is your heart ready to be changed? Lent is a time to change one’s heart. That is not an easy thing to do. Jesus, in the midst of activity, always took time for silence and prayer; we realize how important it is for us to do the same. Why not take some time this Lent for quiet, prayer, and sharing in a small community? The change you will find will be well worth the time.
 
Why small groups? That is a reasonable question as we live in a culture that is so inclined to the philosophy of individualism. There are two reasons:
 
First, small groups are biblical. Jesus chose his small group—the apostles
(Mark 3:14-15).
 
Members of the early church followed Jesus’ example. They gathered regularly in their homes for small-group fellowship (Acts 2:42).
 
The Apostle John stressed group fellowship (1 John 1:7). The Greek word John used for fellowship, koinonia, means much more than a kind of social interaction occurring in many fellowship halls or at church potluck suppers. It is a very intimate, life-sharing type of association. Koinonia is the sort of in-depth camaraderie Jesus shared with his disciples.
 
Second, scholars recommend small groups as extremely beneficial. For most of history, group life was a given. But in today’s fast-paced global society, the culture is very different. Community scholars concur in describing people in contemporary society as alienated, rootless, lonely, and lacking a sense of belonging. This is heightened because most of us will never get back to the extended family, the parish, and the village of our earlier lives. That’s why there is such a proliferation of support groups in our country for all kinds of causes—a positive development that speaks of the human need to be in community. Sociological studies and scholarly opinions support this.
 
For example, pastoral psychologist Robert Leslie says:
 
God is not found in objective law, in sterile formulas, in impersonal rules. God is found in participation, in involvement, in celebration. God is found in relationships, in encounters, in the joys and sorrows of human experience, in the give and take of dialogue. In the miracle of relatedness we discover that we are no longer strangers, but members together in a household, bound together in common loyalty to God.
 
What happens in small groups? In many church small groups the participants share their experiences in trying to understand and live the Word of God. They experience an openness to talk about the more important things in their lives—to listen and care, to provide support and strength. Group members experience sufficient freedom to be themselves without judgment from others. From such openness and acceptance, including prayer for one another, they experience a powerful kind of bonding or warmth that brings growth and change—a feeling of being rejuvenated.
 

Fr. Abraham Orapankal is pastor of St. John Neumann Parish, Califon, NJ. He is a member of the RENEW International Board of Trustees. Previously, Fr. Orapankal was a member of the RENEW International
Pastoral Services Team.

 
 
 
What People Are Saying About Lenten Longings
 
Here are some testimonies from men and women who have experienced
Lenten Longings:
 
Lenten Longings helped our family connect with cousins, siblings, and each other. We especially enjoyed the trust we built as a group and the singing we shared. We learned more about the importance of reading Scripture before Mass and felt more prepared for Easter as a family. Lenten Longings pushed us out of our comfort zones and challenged us to commit to action in our lives. God always gives us what we need. He provided this tie of fellowship so we could see him at work in our home and in our hearts.”
 
“The sharing of faith, family, and God’s presence in our lives is already making a positive difference in our daily activities.”
 
“We are a lively group. I am deeply impressed by the quality of the members’ responses which I find highly spiritual and thought-provoking. We have had such a profound spiritual experience; we now feel we have a much closer tie with the parish community, with each other, and most specially a greater love for our God.”
 
“The faith sharing has been very helpful in that the readings become more relevant and actionable when discussed from different viewpoints. These are some of the actions that our group has put based on the Lenten Longings experience:
-Greet someone new at church on Sundays. Stay a little longer after Mass to talk
to people.
-Send in food items that are in high demand at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.
-Volunteer as a group at the food pantry where a team member volunteers.
-Prepare a meal as a group for the Women’s Shelter.”

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As we journey into Lent and Easter, let us pray for God to become the subject of our seeing, the One who sees in us. This ability has been given to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
 
 
 
 
 
Jesus, our Lord and Savior,
we enter with you into the Paschal Mystery
of your dying and rising to new life.
 
We pray that your attitude of total self-giving
may more and more be the single desire and response
of your one Church and of your people gathered here.
 
Walk with us again throughout this week.
Let your Holy Spirit flood our hearts anew
that we may be open to new invitations
to die and rise again for the life of the world.
 
May your Holy Spirit groan in us until we bring to completion in you
the great work you have entrusted to us
at this our moment in salvation history.
 
By the grace of these Easter mysteries, may your triune presence,
O gracious God, deepen our faith, rekindle our hope,
and set us ablaze with love, radiant as the Easter dawn.
 
In faith, lead us through this week of darkness,
confident that you are the Light.
You will shout to the night and conquer death,
revealing the Father’s love to all who long to see the vision of God,
glorious and free. Amen.
 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year C: Seeing With God’s Eyes, available from RENEW International.

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As we journey into Lent and Easter, let us pray for God to become the subject of our seeing, the One who sees in us. This ability has been given to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
 
 
 
 
 
Spirit of Faith, take hold of our hearts.
Refashion them ever more closely into the heart of Christ.
 
Spirit of Love, move among your people.
Fill us with that same love that turns us toward one another
in friendship and trust.
 
Spirit of Hope, stand before our eyes.
Reveal the good in ourselves
that we often hide and the good in others
that we often we fail to see.
 
Spirit of God, lift the clouds of doubting.
Give us a new vision of
the world that you designed.
 
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
take hold of our hearts and make us your own,
a people set free to love and serve
the world in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year C: Seeing With God’s Eyes, available from RENEW International.

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As we journey into Lent and Easter, let us pray for God to become the subject of our seeing, the One who sees in us. This ability has been given to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
 
 
 
 
 
God of our present, our past, and future, too,
be here among us as we begin this time together.
Quiet those places in us that are anxious,
soothe those that are weary, and rouse us
from those places where we’ve grown complacent.
 
See us as we long to be and help us
to bridge the gap between our actions
and our intentions just a little more this Lent.
 
Teach us to revel in the faith of your sustaining presence
and give us the grace to see ourselves
and one another with the eyes
of your compassionate love. Amen.
 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year C: Seeing With God’s Eyes, available from RENEW International.

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As we journey into Lent and Easter, let us pray for God to become the subject of our seeing, the One who sees in us. This ability has been given to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
 
Great and awe-inspiring God,
Source of all that is,
name beyond all names, who names us,
your love for us is beyond our comprehension,
and your desire that we know you
exceeds the limits of our understanding.
 
We come to you as we are,
knowing that you are able to change our hearts,
to create us anew.
You see our afflictions and know our sins,
yet you hold us in mercy and call us to mission.
 
We trust in your ways and await
your ongoing revelation in our lives,
our communities, our Church, and our world.
Keep us attentive to your presence in prayer
and responsive to a world in need.
 
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
and for the glory of God the Father. Amen.
 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year C: Seeing With God’s Eyes, available from RENEW International.

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