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A message from Dean Nick as Lent begins

by Michael Ford last modified 02 Mar, 2022 04:10 PM

Dean Nick has outlined Salisbury Cathedral's focus for Lent 2022.

Every Friday evening throughout the year, the six Lay Vicars of the Cathedral sing Evensong. The choristers – the boys or girls of the Choir – are absent, and the service proceeds without the rich polyphony which characterizes our worship on other evenings. Instead, the men of the Choir offer Plainsong settings of the familiar responses, canticles, and psalms. We process in and out of the Quire in silence. 

This deliberately austere atmosphere is a reminder to all that it was on a Friday that Jesus suffered and died. The sparseness of the music, and the stillness of the Quire, make every Friday Good. Even during the Church’s celebratory seasons, when the Christmas tree sparkles or Easter flowers fill the nave, Christ’s suffering and death are presented to us, week by week, and we are invited to meditate on them and pray through them. The Passion of Christ is not just for Passiontide: it is for the whole year. 

I wonder…is the same true of Lent? After all, it’s typically a season when we give ourselves, whether as individuals or as churches, a particular focus or a particular discipline. We read a devotional book or follow a study course. We commit ourselves to a rhythm of Bible reading or to a pattern of abstinence. We give something up, or we take something on. 

At the Cathedral this year our focus will be on prayer. On each Monday evening during Lent I will give an address on a different theme: why we pray; how we pray; praying thankfulness; praying for others; praying without words (all of these will be available to view on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel). Later each week groups from our congregation will meet in person or online to reflect on what they have heard and to tell their own stories. 

But there’s a risk in this. Just as the Passion is not just for Passiontide, so too prayer is not just for Lent! We give ourselves a focus or a discipline because that focus or discipline is of value throughout the year. Lent is not a hair-shirted phase we are required to go through each year, something to be endured for a few short weeks until blissful normality is resumed on Easter morning. Abstinence during Lent may reveal to us that the rest of the year we are too fond of whatever we’ve abstained from - chocolate, or social media, or carbon consumption; Bible-reading during Lent may prompt us to develop habit of Scriptural study as a year-round feature of our discipleship; learning about prayer during Lent may encourage us to pray more intentionally through Eastertide and beyond. 

“We are Easter people” St Augustine of Hippo is believed to have preached. We are. But we are also Lenten people. We at all times rejoice in our Lord’s resurrection. At all times. But even as we do so we follow him into the wilderness, there to learn more of him, more of ourselves, and more of his purposes for us. 

Nicholas Papadopulos 

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