A very early Easter means that by the time we share these thoughts we are well into the Lenten journey. Here at the Beda College, we have the custom on mid-Lent Sunday of having a 'Lenten Oasis' at which we invite the staff and students of some of our English-speaking sister colleges in Rome to join us for Mass and then lunch.
It is held on Laetare Sunday, the day on which, in some of our churches, the purple of the Lenten season gives way to a slightly less austere rose colour – a reminder to us that there needs to be a lightness in our fidelity to the Gospel which makes space for the joy (Gaudium) of the Gospel, that joy to which Pope Francis is constantly re-calling us.
Mid-Lent Sunday, which falls on 6 March this year, takes its name 'Laetare' from the entrance antiphon at Mass that day; Rejoice O Jerusalem. An exception to the Lenten norms is made so that we can have flowers at the altar and play the organ (and by extension other instruments) as a 'voluntary' – that is, not only to support the singing. This is just a slight lifting of what can appear as the heaviness of Lent, a reminder that there is such a thing as a joyful Lent.
Lent is not an end in itself, but a means by which the grace of God brings about the preparation and purification needed in our lives so that we can fully and lovingly celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord at Easter.
"There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter," writes Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel. "I realise of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved."