Monday, 9 March 2009

Marian character of the Lenten season (3)

One of the Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, intended for use during Lent, has the title The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II concluded his Apostolic Exhortation on penance and reconciliation in this way:

I likewise invite you to turn with me to the immaculate heart of Mary, mother of Jesus, in whom "is effected the reconciliation of God with humanity..., is accomplished the work of reconciliation, because she has received from God the fullness of grace in virtue of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ." Truly Mary has been associated with God, by virtue of her divine motherhood, in the work of reconciliation.

Into the hands of this mother, whose fiat marked the beginning of that "fullness of time" in which Christ accomplished the reconciliation of humanity with God, to her immaculate heart - to which we have repeatedly entrusted the whole of humanity, disturbed by sin and tormented by so many tensions and conflicts - I now in a special way entrust this intention: that through her intercession humanity may discover and travel the path of penance, the only path that can lead it to full reconciliation.[1]
In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the questions about the Sacrament of Penance[2] are presented under the title “The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”[3]. In this way, the “path of penance” is seen also as the “path of reconciliation”, as Pope John Paul II suggests.

300. What is interior penance?
It is the movement of a “contrite heart” (Psalm 51:19) drawn by divine grace to respond to the merciful love of God. This entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, a firm purpose not to sin again in the future and trust in the help of God. It is nourished by hope in divine mercy.

301. What forms does penance take in the Christian life?
Penance can be expressed in many and various ways but above all in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These and many other forms of penance can be practiced in the daily life of a Christian, particularly during the time of Lent and on the penitential day of Friday….

310. What are the effects of this sacrament?
The effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living.
The theme of forgiveness of sins as reconciliation can be seen in the prayers of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Reconciliation:

Lord our God, through the precious blood of your Son you reconciled the world to yourself and at the foot of the cross you chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of reconciliation for sinners; grant through her intercession that we may obtain pardon for our sins.

Lord, we offer you these gifts of reconciliation and praise, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, refuge of sinners, you may in your mercy pardon our sins and steady our wavering hearts.

In your infinite goodness you do not abandon those who stray from you, but in marvellous ways you call them back to your love: you gave the Blessed Virgin Mary, sinless as she was, a heart of compassion for sinners; seeing her love as their mother, they turn to her with trust as they ask your forgiveness; seeing her beauty of spirit, they seek to turn away from sin in its ugliness…[4]
Our recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, and to practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, during Lent can therefore be seen as having a clear Marian character.

[1] Pope John Paul II Reconciliatio et Paenitentiae n.35.
[2] cf the title of the Sacrament in the 1983 Code of Canon Law c.959, and ff.
[3] cf Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.296 ff.
[4] Respectively, the Opening Prayer, the Prayer over the Gifts and the Preface.

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