Today’s readings [Mass for the school children]
A long, long time ago when God had finished creating the heavens, the earth, and everything in them, including men and women, God looked at it and saw how very good it all was. God especially loved the people he created because those people were images of himself. God made people to love him and be with him forever, but he also made people to be free, because God wanted people to love him because they wanted to love him and not because they had to.
It didn’t take very long before men and women messed up and fell from grace. Instead of being the beautiful creations God made them to be, they sinned and chose not to love him the way they should. But every time they did that, God tried to bring them back. When the great flood came, God put Noah and some others on the Ark to save his creation. When the people were put into slavery in Egypt, God led them out of Egypt, through the desert, to a much better place. And every time he did that, things would be okay for a while, but then men and women would turn away from him again.
But God never stopped trying to save us. He didn’t want us to turn away from him and die; he wanted us to turn toward him and live in the kingdom he had made for us. So he decided that he would send his own Son to our world to save us from our sins. His Son Jesus loved us all so much that he died on the Cross in the place of all our sins. But because God didn’t want death to separate us from him, he raised Jesus up from the dead on the third day. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we know that our own death isn’t the end of our life. We too can live forever with God in heaven.
So today we celebrate that Cross, because it is by the Cross that we have been saved for our sins, saved forever, so that we can love God and live with him forever. Next week we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. During Lent, we remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross for all of us. During Lent, we also make sacrifices in our own lives so that we can remember that God is all that we need. Since we are getting ready to celebrate Lent, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about our Church’s traditions for Lent.
Ashes: We use ashes on ash Wednesday. In Biblical days, people used to wear sackcloth and sit in ashes as a sign of turning away from their sins. So ashes remind us that we are all sinners, and have to turn back to God. The ashes are made from the palms that were given out last year on Palm Sunday.
Palms: Just before Jesus died on the Cross, he came back to Jerusalem and all the people were excited about it. They waved palms and put them on the road as he came so that they could hail him as their king. We give out palms on Palm Sunday so that we can remember that Jesus is our king.
Purple vestments: The priest wears purple and the Church is decorated with purple during Lent. Purple is a color that reminds us of being sorry for our sins. The second graders here know that when they go to the priest for confession, the priest wears a purple stole. So we wear purple to remind us that during Lent, we are sorry for our sins.
40 Days: Lent is forty days long. Forty was an important number in the Bible. When the great flood came, Noah and the others were in the Ark for forty days and nights. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, they traveled through the desert for forty years. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he fasted there for forty days. We take these forty days to look at our lives and make changes, so that we can grow closer to God.
Fish: You might know that older Catholics give up meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Jesus died on the Cross on a Friday, so Friday is always a special day of fasting and prayer for us. During Lent, we give up meat on Fridays and eat simpler meals so that we can remember that it is always God who fills us up and that God has a rich banquet prepared for us.
Paschal Candle: This is the Paschal Candle, which we also call the Easter Candle. This candle helps us remember that Jesus is our light. Even if our lives are made darker by sin and unhappiness, Jesus can break through all that with the powerful light of his presence.
No “Gloria” or “Alleluia”: The “Gloria” and the “Alleluia” are songs of joy. During Lent, we give up those songs of joy because we are remembering our sins and the price that Jesus paid for them by dying on the Cross. During Lent, we don’t sing the Gloria at all, and in place of the Alleluia we sing a special antiphon.
There are many things that we do during Lent. But all of them remind us that we need to turn back to God who loves us so much that he sent his Son Jesus to take away our sins.