It’s Lent and purple is a lovely colour. I’m giving up the usual so that I don’t forget what I’ve decided to do. We went to Mass yesterday and received the ashes to remind us that we are both body and soul, material and spiritual and that the body will return to the earth from which it came. But we are not dualists. We do not profess a soul trapped in a body as though the body is merely a material overcoat to the soul. And we do not swing off the other way that the body is merely an animated machine. We are one person body, mind and soul.
From the very beginning the Church has used materials – the stuff of life – to remind us and teach us that God made the world and it is good.
The sacramentals of the Church are part of the God’s story for us. We receive the burned palms as ash on our heads as a sign that we recognise that we are sinners and we know that leads to the death. Then at the beginning of Holy Week we have the palms in our hand reminding us that those who called Jesus king one day, called for His crucifixion only a few days later – and we are like them.
As Avila has been looking at the sacramentals as part of her RE, I’ve picked up more of an interest in them. I’ve always had a bit of an interest as my MA dissertation was focused on how children with special needs, especially developmental delay, can access the Sacraments. When I worked with children with serious disorders including autism, that meant they had little or no spoken language, a multisensory approach was vitally important. In fact the Children’s Hospice I worked in had a multisensory room.
The Church in both her Latin and Eastern Rites is beautifully set up so that all people, no matter how much language or learning they have can be fed and nurtured. We have icons, windows, statues, the shape and colour of the Church. The liturgical colours to mark the year, the candles, tabernacle and incense to see, touch and smell and of course the Blessed Sacrament to taste and see that the Lord is good. We have water and oils and then we use our bodies in prayer. Those whose body works stand before God, sit and listen and kneel in adoration. We genuflect and bow before God and of course we make the Sign of the Cross on our own bodies. At the Gospel we make another Sign of the Cross; making a cross on our foreheads, lips and chest silently praying that we will think, speak and love the Gospel.
We give something up for Lent because our bodies are just as important in our relationship with God as our minds and souls. In giving up chocolate or alcohol or whatever we choose to do without, we are not saying those things are bad (chocolate is soooo good) but we are saying that God is better. We give up a little of the good for more of the best.