The liturgical season of Lent finds its origins in the early church; it was the time of intense preparation for those preparing for baptism and full initiation into the Church. It was a “retreat before baptism,” a time of deepening prayer, accompanied by reconciliation and penance. The entire community participated in this preparation by encouraging the candidates, and by preparing for the renewal of their own baptismal promises.
Over the years, because the focus of baptism shifted from adults to infants, the focus of Lent shifted from primary emphasis on baptism, to the secondary emphasis of reconciliation and penance. Today, primarily because of a renewed emphasis on the baptism of adults, the Church has restored the baptismal character of Lent. Lent has become again a “retreat before baptism.”
For those preparing for baptism, this indeed is a retreat time of preparation for their baptism. For baptized Christians who will be received into the Catholic Church during the Easter season, this retreat time prepares them for the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist, those sacraments that will “fully” initiate them into the Church. For all of us, this is an opportunity to prepare for the Easter Vigil when we will renew our baptismal promises.
There is something else we baptized can do as we prepare for the Easter Vigil and the renewal of our baptismal promises: we can receive the sacrament of Reconciliation—a second baptism! This understanding of Reconciliation as a second baptism finds its roots, too, in the early Church because of persecutions and various schisms. Lapsi (those who left the community either out of fear or disagreement) were reconciled to the community through a lengthy process of reconciliation and its character paralleled that of preparation for baptism.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation obtains for us the same graces of baptism: cleansing of our sins, and reconciling us to God and the community. Spend these 40-days of Lent reflecting on water rather than the desert, and the graces you received through the water of your baptism. Reflect on water as that which cleanses and purifies us and is symbolic of our “passing through” death to new life. Reflect on how Reconciliation, especially celebrated within and with the community, cleanses us and restores us to new life—with God and with one another.
By S. Mary Henry.