by Rev. Jeff Loseke
In many places this weekend, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, the faithful will walk into churches and find that the crosses and sacred images have all been covered or removed from sight. During Lent, the Church recommends—and even obliges in some matters—that the liturgy be stripped of those elements that communicate the fullness of Easter joy so that the reality of this penitential time might be more apparent. For example, no flowers are permitted and musical instruments are silenced (except for last week’s Lætare Sunday celebration), the Gloria is omitted, fewer Saints’ days are commemorated, and so forth. And now, as we enter into the final two weeks of Lent, many parishes will observe the longstanding tradition of stripping away even the crosses and sacred images from the church—a poignant reminder of how Christ Himself shed His heavenly glory to become a man for our sake… even to the point of death.
The church building itself is consecrated to stand in the midst of the local community as a visible image of Christ. For this reason, its architecture and artistry should stand out from all the ordinary, profane, and secular buildings that surround it. Indeed, a church’s walls are anointed with Sacred Chrism by the Bishop, signifying that it stands in and of itself as an “anointed one,” (i.e., a “Christ”) for all to see. During these last weeks of Lent, as the beauty of the physical environment of the church building fades away, we recall the words of Scripture regarding God’s Suffering Servant: “He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him” (Isaiah 53:2).
Rather than winding down at its end, Lent intensifies. The reason is simple: How can there be a Resurrection without first experiencing a death? As we ritually and sacramentally experience Jesus’ Passion and Death, each of us is called to enter into these very Mysteries and to let them permeate his or her own life. Just as Jesus was stripped—and now the church stands stripped—we must ask ourselves: What needs to be stripped away in my own life? How yet do I need to die to my own selfishness? There is nothing serene or passive about that! As Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum fast approach, we cannot relax our efforts to rend our hearts. Ultimately, it is God who will work the grace of His Death and Resurrection in us, breaking our hearts of stone in order to give us hearts that live (cf. Ezekiel 36:26).
The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska. Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha. In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.
Art: Photography – Golgotha Crucifix, Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (Wikimedia Commons)