Penitents and Catechumens –Then and Now

Thursday of the Fourth week of Lent

In early centuries those who observed Lent were the catechumens and penitents. Members of these two groups had spent years in prayer, penance, and learning. When it was time for the penitents to return to the community and the catechumens to become part of the community, the last few weeks and the last three days before Easter were quite intense in the preparation. (These last days of preparation eventually became what we know as Lent and the Sacred Triduum.)

When I taught high school, I told the students, “Don’t get ashes.” Shocked, they wondered what I’d say next, and then I added, “unless you’re going to be like the penitents and catechumens.” Having studied the two groups, the students understood that ashes would signify that they were signing up for the rigors of fasting and prayer preceding entrance or re-entrance into the community.

How have you been like a catechumen this Lent? Did you study your faith more by attending a lecture or reading a spiritual book? Were you like a penitent as you sacrificed to atone for sin? Have you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

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