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Liturgical resources for Lent and Eastertide

30 November, 1999

Thomas O’Loughlin provides a guide to any priest or liturgy preparation group wishing to make the Sunday liturgy a real encounter where the participants can experience God speaking to them.

pp. 360. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online go to www.columba.ie


Ash Wednesday 
First Sunday of Lent A 
First Sunday of Lent B 
First Sunday of Lent C 
Prayers of the Faithful: Some Notes on their Theology and Form 
Second Sunday of Lent A 
Second Sunday of Lent B 
Second Sunday of Lent C 
Third Sunday of Lent A 
Third Sunday of Lent B 
Third Sunday of Lent C 
Fourth Sunday of Lent A 
Fourth Sunday of Lent B 
Fourth Sunday of Lent C 
Fifth Sunday of Lent A 
Fifth Sunday of Lent B
Fifth Sunday of Lent C 
The Passion in the Liturgy: The demands of celebration 
Passion (Palm) Sunday A 
Passion (Palm) Sunday B 
Passion (Palm) Sunday C 
Holy Thursday 
Good Friday 
The Easter Vigil 
Easter Sunday 
Preaching on Sundays in Eastertide
Second Sunday of Easter A
Second Sunday of Easter B
Second Sunday of Easter C
Third Sunday of Easter A
Third Sunday of Easter B
Third Sunday of Easter C
Breaking and Sharing: Making More of the Fraction
Fourth Sunday of Easter A
Fourth Sunday of Easter B
Fourth Sunday of Easter C
Fifth Sunday of Easter A
Fifth Sunday of Easter B
Fifth Sunday of Easter C
Alternative credal formulae
Sixth Sunday of Easter A
Sixth Sunday of Easter B
Sixth Sunday of Easter C
The Ascension of the Lord A
The Ascension of the Lord B
The Ascension of the Lord C
Celebrating Ascension and Pentecost
Seventh Sunday of Easter A
Seventh Sunday of Easter B
Seventh Sunday of Easter C
Pentecost Sunday A
Pentecost Sunday B
Pentecost Sunday C


The gathering for the Eucharist on Sunday is, and always has been, the central event of the life of the People of God. That gathering for a meal – a practice in direct continuity with all the meals during the lifetime of Jesus which formed his new community and imparted to it his style – is characterised by its encounter with the risen Christ in a variety of ways. First, in the gathering together of the baptised which makes a single group from people who are scattered during the week, and establishes that gathering as a single body in Christ. Gathered at the tables of word and sacrament we become visibly the identity we claim: brothers and sisters in, and parts of, Christ’s body. Secondly, there is the encounter with Christ through the communal recollection of the memory of God’s works from the community’s own ‘memory banks’. The scriptures are the communities’ book. They are truly known when read in the communities, and understood within the whole memory of the People of God. The living God cannot be contained in a lifeless form such as a book, but rather lives in the living memory of the church animated by the Spirit; but the reading of those ancient books jogs that memory into consciousness, reflection, new understandings, and action. Readings, homilies, and common prayers have been part of the communal activity of the followers of the Way since the outset. Thirdly, there is the encounter in the act of thanksgiving to the Father whereby, in eating and drinking at the Lord’s table, we share in the Lord’s body and blood.

This weekly gathering is presided over by one of the community whom the church has empowered to act in the name of the whole People of God on earth, and in every moment of the celebration the actions of the one who presides can add to the effectiveness of the whole event, in making this gathering into an encounter with Christ. This act of presiding week after week is a demanding task, and one that few presbyters can undertake without looking for ideas from others, even if it is only to inspire them to appreciate that their own ideas are better than most of those around! To preach and teach, particularly in a culture like ours that finds religious affirmation difficult and experiences distance from many of the historical rituals and narratives of Christianity, is something that demands all the resources of the individual’s own experience, study, prayer, and reflection. However, it is also one where gathering ideas and hints from others is clearly required as well. The good teacher brings out what is both old and new, and does not refuse to consider hints from anyone. Here is the purpose of this book: it is a collection of ideas, hints, suggestions that I have put together as part of an attempt to help fellow disciples derive food from their participation in the liturgy, and I offer them now to you. If they help you, and those who minister with you, to enhance your celebrations by picking and choosing from them, that is good. If they inspire you to produce even more effective ways to make the Word present in your gatherings, then that is better.

There is no overall theme to these resources. I have tried to draw from as wide and catholic an experience of the liturgy as possible. There is, however, a guiding notion. Whenever possible the resources are self-referential to the actual event being celebrated: a Eucharist. So whenever a suggestion might help a community have a deeper appreciation of what they are doing, there and then, this has been preferred. The Eucharist is an activity (‘Do this in memory’), and the more a community appreciates what it is doing together, the more the action is enhanced and the purpose of all liturgy realized.

To conclude, please reflect on this passage from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (n. 5, Missal, p. xx), which has continually rumbled in the back of my mind:

The celebration of the eucharist, and the entire liturgy, is carried out by the use of outward signs. By these signs faith is nourished, strengthened, and expressed. It is very important to select and arrange the forms and elements proposed by the church, which, taking into account individual and local circumstances, will best foster active and full participation and promote the spiritual welfare of the faithful.



For many people, today, rather than Ash Wednesday, is their first encounter with the season of Lent. It is therefore worthwhile presenting today as the introduction to the whole season. However, the difficulty is that ‘Lent’ must not be presented as a season on its own, possibly with Easter as sequel; rather it has to be seen as a stage in the annual season of renewal, the celebration of death of the old person – resurrection to new life, that is central to the whole time between Lent’s beginning and Pentecost.

Introduction to the Celebration
We are the people who have been baptised into Christ and share in his new life. But we are also a people still in need of repentance and renewal. Today we begin a season that leads us through Christ’s death to his resurrection and onwards to our celebration of the Spirit dwelling within us at Pentecost. Today we begin a season of renewal in that new life, we start to take stock of the state of our discipleship as individuals and as a people. During the coming weeks we will focus on the core of our faith and our dedication to building the new kingdom announced by Jesus.

Rite of Penance
Option c. iv (Missal, p. 393) is appropriate.

Opening Prayer
The alternative opening collect is better today as it opens up a theme that is picked up in the first reading.

Headings for Readings
First Reading
As Christians we believe that God is the sovereign creator and that all that he made is good; we also know that in our world and in our own lives there is disruption, decay, and evil. Part of the difficulty of believing is that we have to face both these realities – that God is good, but there is evil in the world – without ignoring or denying either of them. Now we are going to read an ancient story that attempts to explain how both these apparently contradictory ‘facts’ can exist side-by-side.

Second Reading
Paul took the historical existence of Adam as a fact, and tried to understand the significance of Jesus by contrasting him with Adam. Even if we do not think of Adam as an historical individual, the state of sinfulness in which we humans find ourselves is a fact; and faced with this human situation, we believe that Jesus offers us forgiveness and a life that cannot be destroyed by evil or death.

Matthew presents the temptation of Jesus as occurring at the outset of his public ministry for which Jesus was preparing by a period of forty days of prayer and fasting. We are now entering a time of preparing to do the Father’s will more closely by a similar time of prayer and fasting. We too must be alert to the reality of temptations that would call us away from the Way of Christ.

Prayer of the Faithful

As we begin our annual period of renewal in the risen life of the Lord, let us ask the Father for our needs, the needs of all the churches, and the needs of all humanity.


  1. For the whole Church of God, that this period of prayer and fasting will prepare us to enter into the new life of Christ at Easter.
  2. For all [especially those in this community] who are beginning their final period of preparation for baptism; that their initiation into the People of God may bring them joy and peace in their lives.
  3. As we renew ourselves through reconciliation with our sisters and brothers and with the Father, let us pray that the Light of truth and the Spirit of reconciliation will be present in the hearts of all peoples and in all who have duties of leadership in the world.
  4. As we begin our time of fasting, let us pray for all who do not have a fair share of the world’s resources and for all who are hungry, that the Father will give them hope and move human hearts to help them.
  5. Local needs.
  6. For ourselves, that we as a community will have the strength to avoid temptation, and serve the Father with pure hearts.

Father, your Son was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin. Grant us the grace and strength we need to reject sin and to serve you with all our hearts and skills, for we ask this through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer
The preface for this Sunday (P12) relates directly to today’s gospel.

Invitation to the Our Father
As we begin this time when we will seek forgiveness for our sins, let us ask the Father to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us:

Sign of Peace
Today we are committing ourselves to renewing our commitment to be the people of peace, let us begin by offering a token of reconciliation and peace to each other.

Invitation to Communion
Behold the bread of life, the Lord’s loaf broken so that each of us can share its sustenance; happy are we who are called to this banquet.

Communion Reflection
Robert Herrick’s poem, ‘To keep a true Lent,’ makes a fine reflection for this Sunday. The text is in the Breviary, vol 2, pp. 612*-613* (Poem n 77).

Prayer over the people, n 4 (Missal, p. 380).


First Reading: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7
This is an abbreviated form of the ‘Fall Story’. But we should first note that by Jesus’s time there were several schools of interpretation regarding this story, and that for which Paul opted – which interpreted it as a ‘fall’ and a fall from divine favour (Rom 5) – was just one of the ways that this story was used. Paul seems to have adopted his position as it was that found in the circles in which he was trained in Jewish thought, but it is unclear whether he continued to use it when he became a follower of Jesus, because it could be used to show why a ‘redeemer’ was necessary; or whether, since he was using the ‘fall’ interpretation, he then had to present Jesus using the notion of a redeemer. However, this does mean that the Fall has stood very close to the centre of most Christian theology for most of our history. This Fall ‘downwards’ then became the basis for the explanation of the fact of evil in a good creation as being accounted for by Original Sin. That, in turn, became the basis for a particular theology of grace: we can only do good (due to the presence of Original Sin) through the assistance of God.

Given the history of the tradition that has brought the text to our attention, this chain of thought cannot be avoided by the Christian reader, but it is interesting to note that the story has been interpreted in many other ways. One of these is that God placed Adam and Eve in a protected environment, but then through the experience of temptation they had to become aware of their own abilities and the need to act responsibly: in the testing they were forced to become fully human and grown up and capable of a more significant relationship with God as they were now moral agents. Hence, ‘their eyes were opened’ and they became the key actors among all the living beings, through moral responsibility and through work.

If you do mention this reading in detail in your comments or homily, then take care to avoid dated cliches (e.g. ‘our first parents’) which can give the impression that this text is an historical account of the earliest human history. If you do mention it, it is worth mentioning that it is not to be considered as ‘a revealed alternative’ to the investigations of empirical science, but a rich religious myth which seeks to explain the presence of evil, suffering, the goodness of God, and also the hiddeness of God.

However, although the first and second readings today do form a famous theological doublet, one should try to limit the extent that that pairing sets the tone for the liturgy. In today’s liturgy – as opposed to the history of Christian theology – the story of Adam and Eve is, in effect, a counterpoint to the gospel: and the gospel and the first reading should be read against each other. Jesus is tempted, but resists, he challenges the promises of the tempter, hence the tempter leaves and angels console him. Adam and Eve acquiesce with the tempter and are left severely alone with the need to defend themselves in the world. This interpretation does not do justice to Genesis, but it does highlight the gospel (which was written with an awareness of this Genesis story) and its message: temptation is there as a fact in the world and can be resisted. However, it is best to observe a silence as to how temptation is resisted because in answering that question the western churches have expended too much labour and, indeed, blood: it is the question that sparked off the whole debacle about actual grace, human initiative, and the ability to imitate Christ. In Genesis there is an awareness of temptation, and that succumbing to it leads to greater misery; part of Matthew’s message is that because Jesus resisted temptation, so we too can resist.

Psalm: 50:3-6, 12-14, 17. R/ cf v.3
This is the penitential psalm par excellence, and is an individual lament for sinfulness. Traditionally this was presented as David’s lament when challenged by Nathan after his adultery with Bathsheba Isee the story found in 2 Sam 11-12. This focus on individual lament is altered by the liturgy in the response: on us for we have sinned’.

Second Reading: Rom 5:12-19
This reading forms the perfect sequel to the first reading as it is here that Paul takes the Adam and Eve story and interprets it as the origin of the ‘fall’, thereby explaining to himself and his audience how he makes sense of the need for Jesus’s life and death. The churches have invested so much energy into the edifice of (1) the theology of Original Sin, (2) this Pauline theology of redemption, and (3) the theology of grace that is ultimately based on these verses of Paul, that it is well nigh impossible to unpack these verses without at the same time unpacking the whole edifice.

The key point to note is that Paul’s starting point appears to be the fact of the gift of God that is Jesus, and Jesus is the one who opens up a way to the Father. The interpretation of Genesis then follows as a means to explain why humanity needed this new gift. So if now a way is opened, then formerly it must have been closed, so how did it come to be closed, and so there must have been a ‘fall’, and so forth. We should not think of Paul as setting forth a series of doctrines (e.g. ‘the Fall’, ‘Original Sin’, a theory of transmission, or a doctrine of grace) so that Christians could know these facts. Such interpretations view doctrines as if they are religious facts about the nature of the universe in the same way that the ‘law of gravity’ is a fact about the physical universe. However, this is how this text has been preached in all the western churches in recent centuries – e.g. the ‘Monogenism’ debate within Catholicism in the 1950s – and to some extent this is how it is still presented by many Christians. Rather, we should think of Paul trying to make sense of what he believes has happened in Jesus Christ – in him a new way of being at rights with God has been opened up – and if he is to fit this with what he already believes, then one way of doing that is to link it to a complex understanding of the effects of a fall at the very beginning of human history which must be still having an effect. The key thing is to focus on Paul’s starting point – Jesus offers us a new way to God – rather than to get tied up in the logic by which he wants to explain this to himself and make it fit with his background.

Gospel: Mt 4:1-11
For Matthew’s community (1) it is in the experience of fasting that one confronts the basic questions of faith – it is a practice of great religious worth, and (2) there is an implicit belief in the presence of the devil as a tempter, and (3) in the presence of angels as those tasked by God to help people. All three of these assumptions are likely to be alien to many in your congregation and this will inhibit the extent to which they can ‘hear’ this text.

In the early church a fast prepared people for baptism or for taking on any specific ministry, so Matthew presents Jesus as the model for this practice: to prepare for his ministry (remember this passage comes from the beginning of the gospel, while we – because our period of fasting comes just before Easter – imagine it coming towards the end, just before Holy Week), Jesus prepares himself by a fast for the ‘perfect’ period: forty days. During this time of preparation – achieved by fasting – he is offered three temptations: material comforts, supernatural abilities, and power / glory / status. Matthew’s church are, by the account of Jesus’s rejections of these temptations, encouraged to persevere in their fasting, to be assured that they can resist temptations, and that they have divine help – angels with them – in rejecting the snares of the devil.


  1. We speak much about ‘discipleship’ and about ‘being disciples’; we also speak about the ‘discipline of Lent,’ but rarely do we link discipleship with discipline, fixed training regimes, and building up skills through practice. In our culture discipline belongs to dieting, skills training belongs to sporting activities, and warm feelings belong to religious discipleship. Earlier Christians took a far more practical approach to living a Christian life and discipleship: it required disciplined training, skills acquisition, mentoring by more experienced members of the community (surviving vestigially in ‘God parents’), regular practice, and periodic renewal and servicing. Here lies one of the origins of Lent and it became linked to preparing for baptism since the prospective members of the community had to have learned the basic skills.
  2. From the outset, three skills were seen as essential. First, the ability to pray: both alone and in a willingness to take part in the liturgy. One cannot be a Christian without prayer, nor call yourself one unless you gather with the Christians for prayer.
  3. Second, a Christian must have the ability to fast. Fasting is a private and a public act. Private in that it touches one personally and makes one conscious of what one is about, literally in the pit of the stomach. This is felt religion, not an engagement with warm abstractions. Fasting is also communal in that it is done at fixed times of the week and year, and when one fasts as a part of a group, one identifies with them by sharing their practice. Then one is not acting alone, but it is the whole group that is imploring heaven collectively for their needs by fasting. Fasting without the dimension of prayer is simply dieting; prayer without fasting (or some other collective activity that ‘touches’ us), may be little more than repetitive sounds.
  4. Third, giving to the poor (almsgiving) is a basic Christian activity, and any notion that Christian belief can be separated from care for justice and development would involve imagining Christianity as a philosophical system and divorce it from its roots – although this is a way of viewing Christian belief that is today quite common. Early Christians assumed that it was no use thanking God for his gifts and asking for his mercy, unless they were prepared to divert their gifts, resources, and mercy to the poor. To acknowledge God as our creator implies a care for all in need. And to acknowledge need and not do something about it is hypocrisy. Now that we have a global consciousness (just turn on the radio and listen to the news: details from every place on the planet where something bad, good, or interesting has happened over the last 12 hours), our almsgiving must have a global reach, hence the importance during Lent of thinking about world poverty, supporting development agencies, and taking some action to remove injustice: this is not a parallel activity to Lent, but part of its core. But remember, prayer and fasting without care for the poor turns faith into a private affair or a ‘holy huddle’, but almsgiving without prayer and fasting while noble, also fails to acknowledge the larger mystery that envelops all creation.
  5. Lent is a time for polishing up basic Christian skills:
      • Prayer: on one’s own and with the group;
      • Fasting: practising simplicity of lifestyle with the group;
      • Almsgiving: making with other Christians a real contribution to making the world a better place for all God’s children.


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