What is Lent?

From Rev. Jeremy Simons, Cathedral Chaplain
April 9, 2019

When Easter is approaching people sometimes wonder why Bryn Athyn Church does not mention or practice “Lent” and other Christian customs that are part of what is called the “liturgical year.” Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks, ending on Holy Thursday, often called Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” is the name of the Christian rite of foot washing, and is derived from the Latin “mandatum” meaning “commanded.” The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
The liturgical year consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determines when feast days are to be observed, such as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years. It varies considerably among the different Christian denominations, and is connected to scores of different feasts and special days that you may or may not have heard of.
The General Church is very unusual in not ever mentioning most of these. In Marguerite Block’s 1934 book “The New Church in the New World,” she writes:

“The most striking difference between the General Church Liturgy (or calendar) and those of other churches is its lack of emphasis on the sequence of events in the earthly life of the Lord as found in the Church Calendar.” (p. 291)

This was a point of criticism in the larger organized New Church when the General Church was beginning. The traditional Christian liturgical year is still practiced in the Swedenborgian Church.
General Church members are often not even aware of this difference, especially since we do follow the most important things like Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter, plus celebrating June 19th and Thanksgiving. But the founders of the church, such as W.F. Pendleton, took a special interest in basing the form of General Church worship, including the calendar, on things specifically taught in the Word. They dropped many customs and practices that were familiar to them but which they did not see as solidly based in the Word. Most notably they added an elaborate celebration of New Church Day on June 19th, something which had not been traditionally marked before, and which is still not celebrated in most of the New Church organizations worldwide.


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