Lent is a season forged by the practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Renunciations, sacrifices and participation in the Way of the Cross are the instruments a faithful embraces to prepare his heart more worthily for Easter, to participate in the salvation that Christ has freely given us.
To understand the profound meaning of our Lenten gestures and to live them more consciously, ZENIT interviewed Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary in charge of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the oldest Dicastery of the Catholic Church. The Cardinal stressed the importance of traditional pious practices in the Season of Lent, as well as the value of Confession and Communion in the holy days of the paschal Triduum.
In fact in the period between Palm Sunday and Easter there are many, among the “few practicing Catholics,” who approach the Sacraments. This is certainly a legacy of the old doctrinal formation, according to which it was necessary to go to Confession at least once a year and to go to Communion at least at Easter,” explained Cardinal Piacenza, who added: “In a context that was still altogether Christian, they were certainly useful indications. Today it is about understanding the enormous distance that can be created between faith and life and, not wasting these traditional occasions of rapprochement, to transform them into ‘new beginnings’ for the faith.”
Moreover, “sacramental Confession is the only true new beginning for each one of us,” because “in every Confession the baptized person is interiorly renewed, and his spiritual life begins again, with all the infinite gifts of grace, which the Sacrament bears.”
Easter Confession and Communion, on which the Church insists in particular during Lent and Eastertide, is, in the liturgical year, “the center of our faith. Cardinal Piacenza explained that the “event of Jesus’ Resurrection, of which the Apostles were witnesses and certainly not creators, is at the root of the very existence of Christianity and only in the light of the Resurrection is Jesus’ divine identity and the mystery of the Incarnation of the Logos understood.”
The Major Penitentiary highlighted the fact that “this centrality was stressed well before Vatican Council II, by the invitation to take part in Christ’s Passion through personal penance, letting oneself be ‘cleansed’ by the Blood of the Lamb, in the Baptismal Sacrament of Reconciliation, which flows from the Cross, and therefore to participate in Holy Mass on the feast of the marriage of the Lamb.”
In fact, Confession and Holy Communion always have an extraordinary value capable of renewing man, but celebrated at Easter they have an objectively more evident spiritual and liturgical value, if I am permitted, also an exorcistic value,” he added.
Cardinal Piacenza noted, moreover, that “all the Sacraments are also ‘great exorcisms’” and, in fact,, dogmatically speaking, exorcisms as blessings are sacramentals that draw strength only from the seven Sacraments, the effective signs instituted by Christ, directly or through the Apostles, to promulgate His salvific presence through the Church, until the end of time.”
He affirmed that “mortal sin is always a slavery, and every time the priest pronounces the formula of absolution, the faithful is freed from the vice-like grip of the Evil One and reintroduced in full communion with the Trinitarian life.” Hence his consideration: “Every Confessor who has some experience, knows how much, spiritually speaking, certain Confessions are paid for and how, in fact, during the holy days of the Paschal Triduum, grace operates powerfully and the devil is likekwise powerfully defeated again.”
Cardinal Piacenza also paused on the importance of Lenten devotions, stressing that, in the last decades, “the terms ‘devotion’ or ‘devotional have right away a debased objective in communication, be it public be it ecclesial. They make one think of something ‘old,’ not current and especially something ‘formal and extrinsic,’ not corresponding to the person’s innermost heart.”
In reality, he highlighted, “the Latin devotio was the rite with which the Generals offered, symbolically, their own life for the victory of the army in battle. Devotion, or devotions, are signs, sometimes simple, through which the faith can be nourished. As in a great love, proclamations are not always useful but small daily gestures nourish a relation, thus it happens with God, on the condition that God is not reduced to an idea or a morality, but is a living and true Person, with whom to relate oneself. Therefore, contempt for so-called ‘devotions,’ and especially for popular devotion, is always suspect, because it could indicate a latent Gnostic drift, ever possible in Christianity. It is always better to be far from religious ‘aristocraticisms.’”
See then that “the Church invites to carry out pious exercises, such as the Way of the Cross, especially proper on Friday, the day of the Lord’s Passion. Such gestures, in addition to being true and proper pauses that refresh the soul in the frenetic pace of our days, have the purpose to express the faith and foster identification, also affective, with the historical events of salvation, with the mysteries we believe,” continued the Cardinal.
Moreover, the Cardinal said: “it is a very grave risk to reduce the faith to a mere intellectual question, involving only one aspect of man’s life. As Saint Augustine affirmed, in Homily 26 (Commentary on John) faith is a touching and, ‘what does touching mean if not to believe?’ Understanding the need of man’s involvement in the faith’s act of will.”
Cardinal Piacenza recommended “all possible Lenten gestures, which support the concreteness of the act of faith and corroborate the objectivity” of fasting, which involves the body, the Way of the Cross, which invites to walk in the Lord’s footsteps, in silence, which enables the heart to truly listen.
Moreover, in our time, made up of communication and the triumph of involvement and the image — its consideration — it would be very strange that, in fact the faith, which has a totalizing claim, should be reduced to mere intellectualism, or to a misunderstood privatization or spiritual dimension.”
Finally, they “are all gestures that foster or nourish an attitude of profound humility, so necessary to modern man.”
“Pious devotional practices,”Cardinal Piacenza concluded, saying, “are simple gestures of love, possible for all, which, however, say much about our faith. And every great love is nourished by little gestures. They’re caresses to Jesus crucified.”