LOG IN          ONLINE GIVING

Notes/Sermons



PENANCE and PROCESSION

At the 8th of Bernadette’s 18 Apparitions, February 24th, 1858, Ember Wednesday in Lent, the young Lady of the Grotto spoke three times the words “Penance! Penance! Penance!” At the 13th Apparition, March 2nd, Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent, the Lady repeated her previous request that a chapel be built (10th Apparition/February 27th/Ember Saturday) and added, “I want the people to come here in procession.”

It is striking how much meaning these messages of Lourdes have once we put them in their context of the Church’s Lenten season. Both penance and procession are crucial parts of the ancient Roman liturgy’s Lenten observance. 

It is striking how much meaning these messages of Lourdes have once we put them in their context of the Church’s Lenten season. Both penance and procession are crucial parts of the ancient Roman liturgy’s Lenten observance.

Let us draw it out from the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Holy Fast of Lent. During Lent, The Roman Church carried out a ritual of daily assembly in one the city’s parish churches, followed by a procession through the city’s streets to another church, the “station” of the day, where the Mass would be said. On Ash Wednesday, the church of the assembly was the basilica of St. Anastasia. Here was carried out the humiliation and expulsion of those baptized members of the Church who, after their baptism, had lapsed into a grave, public sin and thereby lost their fellowship with Christ and the Church. For those who sought to be reconciled, they had to receive a “second baptism” by passing through the way of penance.

As the faithful looked on, those who were to do penance came before the bishop (in Rome, the Pope), and received a penitential garb, the “sackcloth”, and had blessed ashes strewn over their heads. Then they were led by the bishop to the doors of the church and expelled, as Adam and Eve had been expelled from the Garden of Eden after their original sin. For the next forty days these penitents were bound to carry out their canonical penance in full, which included also the “practice of works of satisfaction, prayer, mortification, fasting”, if they hoped to be reconciled at last on the morning of Holy Thursday.

As the life of the Church developed two things happened regarding this public penance. First, the carrying out of public penance and the existence of a category of “public penitents” gradually diminished and then disappeared altogether. Everyone’s sins were confessed in private to a priest and the penance was private. Second, more and more, those who were not bound to submit to the discipline of public penitence nevertheless sought to receive the marks of it out of the self-awareness of their own sinfulness. This was seen in the way people presented themselves on Ash Wednesday, barefoot and in poor clothing, to receive the ashes on their heads alongside the public penitents. Eventually, the practice became universal. We all of us seek the mark of the ashes on Ash Wednesday and we all of us acknowledge our need to do penance for sin — our sins and the sins of others.

The processions of Lent, from the church of the assembly to the church of the station, take with them this humility of penance. The Pilgrim Church is ever a Penitent Church as well. At Lourdes, Our Lady, has re-enforced that message for us. 

About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

Privacy Policy
Return Policy

Christian Life

"If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
- St. Therese of Lisieux (+1897)

Contact Us