On Lenten Sundays: Rejoicing in the Lord Must Be Your Strength

Every Sunday in Liturgy of the Hours during Lent we read a significant reminder that although Lent is a time of penance, nevertheless Sunday remains a day of Joy. The Sundays of Lent are not numbered among the forty days of Lent. Between Ash Wednesday are 46 days. The extra six days are the Sundays of Lent. And of these days the following Instrustion given in the Liturgy of the Hours:

Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to the our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

If one has abstained from things for Lent it is possible to set it aside on Sundays in Lent. It is true that some prefer to maintain their discipline since an on-again, off-again abstinence is sometimes harder. Yet still the freedom of “refraining from the abstaining”  is possible!  Nothing, even the Lenten season can eclipse the joy of the resurrection that is meant to permeate every Sunday.

Hence, a practice to begin in Lent and continue throughout the year is to set Sunday aside not only as a day for worship but also as a day of special joy in the Lord. The day should be marked out for special celebration with family and friends, for the Lord is truly risen.

The Psalms speak of a joy that leads the faithful enter into a kind of joyful dance with and before the God who loves them, the Bride which is  Church in a kind of Dance with her Groom, the Lord:

You turned my mourning into dancing; you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.  Psalm 30:11

Sing to the LORD a new song,  his praise in the assembly of the saints.  Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.  Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.  For the LORD takes delight in his people.… (Psalm 149:3-5)

Jeremiah too speaks of the dance that comes to the Virgin Bride, Israel after her purification:

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness…O Virgin Israel.  Again you will go out to dance with the joyful. (Jer 31:4ff)

So we do well to enter the dance and Lenten Sundays, according to the instruction in the Liturgy of the Hours, are no exceptions

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “Swing Time” 1936

32 Replies to “On Lenten Sundays: Rejoicing in the Lord Must Be Your Strength”

  1. I have only recently begun to truly appreciate and celebrate the Sabbath in a deeper way than just partaking of the sacrifice of the Mass. I feel I have a better perspective on the week ahead and a real longing for Sunday when it is dedicated to joy. After all, it is a commandment.

  2. Nice article. I did not know that the Sundays during Lent were not counted amoung the forty days. Also I did not know that a person could set aside whatever that person had given up during Lent. Is that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or where is that authority givin? During the forty days Jesus spent praying and fasting, He did not appear to enjoy the option of on again off again. He was empting of Himself, and struggling with the Devil. Just curious cause I had never heard of the “setting aside what one has abstained from.” Seems that in the case of abstaining from alcohol, and then permitting drinking on Sunday seems to be counterproductive to giving up one’s vices. I myself quit drinking 14 years ago. Lent is the time to convert one’s weakness into strength in an imitation of Christ. Thanks for the information on the 46 days of Lent.

    1. I am not aware that the Catechism deals with this. The observation folows from the fact that Sundays (even Lenten ones) have the rank of solemnity and are not counted among the forty days. If you gave up something for Lent it may still be advisable to mainain that discpline but just like other solemnities (eg St. Joseph, Annunication) that occur in Lent the disciplines may be set aside, but they do not have to.

  3. Gave up my postings for Lent, because I thought when I came back, it would make me more disciplined. But I guess that this being a day of Joy, I can wish you all the best, and say I’m really appreciating all of the comments, and of course, Msgr’s. Post. (I am learning a lot observing rather than participating. God bless!)

  4. Thank you for the lesson Father. I had no idea about the Sundays in Lent being set aside. I think I will continue my abstaning though, even on the Sundays. I wasn’t always as faithful to the Lord as I should have been and still he was there reaching out. I guess I feel like I owe him for not abandoning me and for taking me back, so to speak. He always seemed to do more for me then he needed to and I deserved, especially back then. So it just seems fitting that I return the favor. God Bless you Father!

  5. It always amazes me that Ginger Rogers matches Fred Astaire step for step while dancing backwards and in high heels.

    1. Yes, I too am amazed. I am an absolute clutz and struggle even to go up the steps without stumbling. It amazes me to see people so light on their feet and able to coordinate – what a gift.

  6. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter’s Brownie troop had a “field trip” to a dance studio. As I watched through the window (when I wasn’t handing cookies over to parents), the instructor took the girls through a dance routine. Most of the girls followed the general direction of the steps, while my daughter seemed to be doing everything BUT what the instructor was doing. At first I just thought, “well that’s my daughter for you – not following directions.” Then, I remembered the following:

    Back in the mid-80s, my father, sister and I took an aerobics class. My sister and I had no trouble keeping up with the routines – in fact we worked as aerobics instructors ourselves for a few years. The best my father could do was something of a random flail. At my wedding reception the father-daughter “dance” was vaguely shuffling in time to the music.

    I looked at my daughter with new eyes. Instead of a non-compliant child, I saw a girl who apparently had inherited her grandfather’s dancing ability. My father laughed when I called him that evening to tell him so.

    1. I can’t sance at all either. For me it is pride. I cannot bear looking stupid (which I do when when I dance). But if I could swallow my pride, I’d probably get better as I ironed out the kinks. But nooooo….. Pride will not let me look stupid even for a moment!

      1. The trick is to watch the feet. If you can get the feet, everything else will follow.

  7. On Sundays I do make an effort to “refrain from abstaining.” For me, that means red meat and beer for supper. This night my wife made tilapia. She must have seen something change in my demeanor because she immediately offered to go to the store to get something else. God bless her. But sometimes one must abstain from even trying to refrain from abstaining. In other words, I told her not to bother, I was thankful for what I have.

  8. With all due respect, Monsignor, while I agree that Sunday is a day of rejoicing, I recognize that, in Mass, the priest is still wearing purple–it is still a day of Lent. I agree with your statement that people are able to dismiss themselves from their Lenten penance on Sunday, but I don’t agree with your reasoning.

    Granted, people often decide not to continue their ascesis on Sundays and the Church doesn’t even bat an eyelash, but that is not because we are no longer in Lent on Sundays; rather, it is because each individual is the arbiter of his own penance. The Church holds Lent as a time for penance, but doesn’t mandate what that will be (beyond fasting on Ash Wednesday & Good friday and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent–Apostolic Constitution on Penance 3.C.II.1). In other words, I get to decide what I do for Lent (Do I give up chocolate or TV or blogging or all of them?) . If I’m the one making the decision, I also get to decide to what extent I do it (Do I cut back from 3 chocolate bars a day to 3 chocolate bars a week, or from 3 hours of TV to 30 minutes, or from a blog post every day to once a week, etc.?). This individual arbitration leaves ample room for those whose penance might work well with celebrating Sunday by not fasting.

    Lent is actually only 44 days long: Ash Wednesday to the beginning of Mass on Holy Thursday evening. Once Mass starts, we enter Triduum (notice that the priest doesn’t wear purple, nor do–as far as I have read–any of the liturgical texts refer to this time as part of Lent). The best explanation I have heard to explain the 4 extra days is as follows: 1) The number 40 is significant biblically, but not necessarily to the point that we observe strictly 40 days. In other words, don’t get caught up on exactly 40, we celebrate a season that is around 40 days. 2) The 5th day of Lent is “Sunday of the 1st Week of Lent,” not “Sunday of the Second Week of Lent.” The next day is Monday of the 1st (not 2nd) week of Lent. Some have referred to the first 4 days as “Lent’s Doorstep”–basically meaning that they count as days of Lent, but when you want to count for 40, you don’t count those days. Lent starts on Wednesday, but the number counting starts on Sunday. Why this practice was adopted, I don’t know. Why there is no direct explanation of the extra days of Lent in any official liturgical texts (that I know of), I don’t know.

    1. Yes, a perfectly valid point of view.

      By the way as you may know the 46 Days are enumerated by including Good Friday and Holy Sat. It is true that the Triduum is distinct from Lent but it is surely annexed to it. It remains true that the forty days of voluntary abstinence may be accomplished by observing the days from Ash Wed to Holy Sat exclusive of Sundays.

      Please note that my article is based on the Breviary Text quoted in the article which appears on each Sunday of Lent which sets a kind of tone for the day. It is a point of view and, as you point out, the word “requirement” is not operative in any of this. The Lenten Sunday as you point out does not loose a penitiential character entirely but neither are the Sundays of Lent of the same character as other days. It would seem that the penitential Character is in some tension with the festive tone set by the breviary. A perfectly fine tension or balance if you ask me.

  9. Whoever founded the Girl Scouts must not have been Catholics. Every year at this time the girl scout cookies ordered some weeks ago to be supportive, arrive right in the heart of Lent!

    1. Or maybe they WERE, and are providing an opportunity for folks to test their mettle.

      Either that, or they were people who gave up something else for Lent.

      1. Oh yes, monsignor. I’ve observed this myself. And when those cookies arrive (particularly the Samoans, although I think they call them something different now), the picture is something akin to Kramskoi’s Christ in the Wilderness.

  10. Ginger Rogers was the best dancer of the several partners that Fred Astaire had. “Backwards and in high heels” is the title of a biography of hers.
    The discussion of days of penance to be observed in Lent is semi-interesting, but on the trivial side. So many of us need to observe penance, along with fasting and almsgiving; but the attempt to measure out exactly 40 days often leads to feelings of failure for one reason or another. Thanks anyway.

    1. Agreed. My point was joy not lots of technical discussions about days and reckonings. I hope my posting of the dance clip would help lighten up the discussion but, as you point out it has got bogged down. 🙁

  11. I didn’t know that Holy Week was considered part of Lent. I thought Holy Week was considered to be, well, Holy Week, such that Lent-proper ended on Palm Sunday (which would be the 40th calendar day beginning with Ash Wednesday), even though the Lenten disciplines still applied. But I see now that we are talking about calendar days when it comes to Lent.

    1. I see now that we are talking about calendar days when it comes to Lent.

      I really wish there was a post-posting “edit” button.
      That should be — “I see now that we are NOT talking about calendar days when it comes to Lent.”

    2. Yeah its all pretty techinical isn’t, which, as I suspect you know, wasn’t what I wanted from the post. All I wanted to do was dance! Too bad. But you’re right Bender, there are different ways of reckoning things aren’t there? Thanks.

  12. I enjoyed the video on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I used to do some waltzing and contra dancing when I was a bit younger. I’m very shy when it comes to dancing so I always appreciate and admire others who can dance beautifully! I am afraid my singing leaves something to be desired as well….

  13. I am of The Eternal Sacred Order of The Cherubim & Seraphim (ESOCH) church in Abuja, Nigeria and I quite appreciate the Catholic belief of Sunday exclusion in lent given the fact that it is a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. We in Eternal start our lent, Tuesday, the upper week after Ash Wednesday. And this is because we believe in a contiguous forty day fast without any form of break up, given the fact that we identify with his suffering and thrive to be christ-like. The forty days fast christ embarked upon was all through without any break-up. In Seraphim, we fast on Sundays, still maintaining the sactity of the Sabbath with joy of the Lord’s passion and resurrection. That Tuesday till Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter culminates to forty days. This is our doctrinal practice in the ESOCS CHURCH. I wish christendom could give a thought provoking consideration on this. May the Lord guide us to eternal life in His Kingdom

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