I made some more Sprite cupcakes myself, a last hurrah before Lent. I don't propose to fast from sweets but it seems appropriate to at least cut down some on the goodies I've been making. All my dessert posts provoked a friend to email me: "Rachel, you do know that 'Mardi Gras' means 'Fat TUESDAY' not 'Fat MONTH,' don't you?"
So it was a fun day but as I was driving home from the party, I realized it just didn't feel like Sunday. I'd prayed the Office with some others and I'd gone to Mass at my home parish, and that's wonderful, but I do that every day. What sets Sunday apart is the traditional Latin Mass, which is longer and more beautiful and so conducive to worship that even if I'm not very well disposed when I walk into the church, before long my heart just gets seized and carried up to God. I try not to miss my Sunday TLM; if I do it'll be a whole long week before I have another chance to go.
So I'm thinking of driving down to San Diego on Wednesday. I hear traffic's awful at rush hour between LA and SD, but if I leave at 5:30 am I can probably make the 9 am Mass at St. Ann's, and I think that might be the closest place to find the Ash Wednesday Mass in the old rite (anyone know of a closer one???) I'll probably come to my senses before then. :)
Another reason I like the TLM is that it follows the old calendar, which has the season of Septuagesima, the three weeks of preparation for Lent. So Lent doesn't just spring itself on you at Ash Wednesday; you have time to consider your life and what you want to work on and what sort of penance you'll undertake. (Like giving up chocolate?)
And another reason is that the older prayers aren't shy about calling us all a bunch of sinners and begging God for mercy. The same is apparently true of the older breviary. Here's part of a translation of a Latin hymn for Sexagesima Sunday (the second Sunday before Lent):
The days of ease are about to close;
the days of holy observance are returning;
the time of temperance is at hand;
let us seek our Lord in purity of heart.
Our sovereign Judge will be
appeased by our hymns and praise.
He who would have us sue for grace,
will not refuse us pardon.
It's refreshing to read things like that, perhaps because talk of guilt and penance and our need to be forgiven and strive for purity are so very rare. Like I love rain because we hardly get any and we need it so much. We're warned that it's awful to feel guilty or say anything that might make others feel that way. But there never was a culture that needed that warning less than ours does. My thoughts about the old prayers are C.S. Lewis' thoughts about old books:
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.
Or, as Pius XII remarked, "The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin."
A year ago I wrote about visual prayer. Here's a possible subject for that: Christ in the Desert, by Ivan Kramskoy. It shows Jesus just before he began his public ministry, when he went out into the desert alone for forty days to fast and pray (and fight temptation). I love the picture. Compared to most religious art this looks so masculine and intense. Jesus' retired life of working as a carpenter is coming to an end, and he's about to leave his mother's home and call his disciples and set his first foot on a hard road that will lead three years later to the Cross. He looks like he's suffering, and he looks like he's not receiving many consolations in prayer, and he looks deadly determined. Just blogging this is making me realize that I do not meditate nearly enough on Jesus Himself, on his life as portrayed in the Gospels. How amazing is it that we have all those stories in which we see God in human form interacting with people who mostly don't know who He is, and we can actually read what He says and what He does? If that seems boring and you wish you were more interested, I recommend praying, "God, please make me care." I've had that prayer answered pretty spectacularly, though not instantaneously; it took time. Anyway, I definitely plan to meditate on this picture during Lent.