When I was a kid, there were a lot of things that confused me about Lent. I understood the basics of why we observed the Lenten season, namely to remember Jesus’ suffering and death, and to spend 40 days in repentance in the same way he did in the desert, but there were a few things I just didn’t get.
For instance, I didn’t fully understand why we couldn’t eat meat on Fridays or why there was no Mass on Good Friday. One of the biggest points of confusion, though, was the omission of the normal Gospel acclamation during Mass. And what was even stranger was hearing friends and family insist that I shouldn’t even say “the A-word” outside of Mass. It just seemed so counter-intuitive to me. If the Lord wanted us to live in the joy of salvation, why would we stop ourselves from saying the most joyful word in our liturgical vocabulary?
As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that, as with everything else Catholic, there are some very good reasons behind our abstinence from this holy word. First of all, I’ve come to understand that the main reason for this change in the liturgy is to help us remember Jesus’ suffering and death, which is of course one of the purposes of the season as a whole.
The word is most closely associated with Jesus’ resurrection, so saying or singing it makes it difficult for us to focus on something other than His triumph over death. By omitting the normal Gospel acclamation, we remind ourselves that even though we know the joyful truth of Jesus’ resurrection, the time of this holy season is meant to focus on the grittier portions of Christ’s life, his suffering and death, so that we might remember the way He loved us until death and unite ourselves to His suffering.
In recent years, I’ve come across another good reason to avoid saying or singing the word either during Mass or outside of it. It hit me while I was at my local parish’s Easter Vigil a few years ago.
When the time came for the Gospel acclamation, I tensed up just a little bit. I’m not supposed to say that word, I instinctively thought, and for a moment I didn’t want to join in. But the moment was short, and I immediately remembered that it was no longer Lent. Good Friday had passed. Jesus was no longer dead, but was alive and among us!
With that realization, I was filled with joy that I can’t possibly describe, and I sang along with the acclamation with my whole heart behind my words. I’ve come to realize that if I hadn’t stopped myself from saying that holy word until the Easter Vigil, that moment of joy would not have had as much impact.
By abstaining from the word, then, I not only helped myself focus on Jesus’ suffering and death during Lent but made myself more fully able to enter into the joy of Easter.
I don’t think the Church requires us to refrain from saying the word of the Gospel acclamation outside of Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours, but I’ve done so ever since I discovered the ways it helps me grow closer to the Lord. But no matter how you’ve chosen to grow closer to God this this season, let’s keep up our sacrifices during this last week of the season.
Whether it’s avoiding “the A-word” or giving up chocolate, our sacrifices will help us know Christ’s passionate love for us and increase our joy at the resurrection once Easter comes..