Walsh’s Wonderings — Lent

A billion Christians worldwide are currently in the middle of Lent, a time spent preparing for Easter through prayer, repentance and self-denial.

These were heavy concepts for young Catholic boys like me. I got resentful when forced to attend Mass on weekday evenings, especially in the middle of an imaginary game of Knicks vs. Celtics in my driveway (even worse if the Celtics were still ahead).

Between my duties as an altar boy and these seemingly random holy days, I lived in constant fear of my mom’s surprise declarations of, “We’re off to church.”

There are officially six Holy Days of Obligation in the Catholic Church that merit participation in the Mass if they fall on a weekday (all Sundays are days of obligation to Catholics). On these days Catholics are supposed to refrain from unnecessary work and to attend church services. No matter how hard I fought, my parents still made me go to school on holy days despite the obvious peril to my immortal soul.

My siblings and I had to choose something to give up for the 40 days of Lent, and my parents wouldn’t accept minor sacrifices. I’d try to get away with giving up vegetables, for instance, but in the end I’d usually be “encouraged” to give up chocolate.

In an effort to minimize the constant whining about our sacrifices, my mom instituted a loophole that we could have whatever we were giving up on Saturdays. I assumed Jesus got the same concession during His time in the desert.

My parents used the Lenten Season as an excuse to squeeze in extra religious duties. First, we’d have to go to Mass to get ashes drawn on our foreheads for Ash Wednesday (the one day of the year we could accurately spot Catholics out in the wild). Next we performed the rite of Confession, particularly awkward for an adolescent boy marinating in the “impure thoughts” he was asked to tell a perfect stranger in a dark telephone booth. Out of respect and camaraderie, we tried not to lock eyes with the boys who emerged from that wooden box after an awkwardly long time.

Palm Sunday began the last week of Lent, commemorating the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. We received palm fronds, yellow-green leaves that felt like plastic in our hands as we made them into crosses to put over our beds. My mom would pray the new palms would do a better job than the old ones at keeping us out of trouble.

Another extra Mass came on Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper between Jesus and His disciples. As an altar boy this meant holding the giant golden crucifix during the Stations of the Cross as we prayed before each of the 14 carvings that portrayed the Passion of Christ from His sentencing to His entombment. We’d usually go to Mass again the next day for Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified.

We got to stay home on Good Saturday, the day His disciples hid in despair. We were back the next day for Easter Sunday, the keynote of Catholicism, which celebrates His resurrection from the dead.

It’s been easy to lose track of holy days this past year as the pandemic kept us from physically attending church services, and there’s something about “Drive-through confessions” in a church parking lot that highlights the connection we’re missing in this particular Lenten Season. That said I choose to appreciate the minor miracles this year has heralded, such as the Knicks rising from the dead to become relevant for the first time in decades. For that alone, I’d gladly go to an extra Mass or two.

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