Catechesis changes its nature during Lent. It plays the servant role to spiritual development. This is the season that prepares us to celebrate the paschal mystery. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says, (Lent) is a period of more intense spiritual preparation, consisting more in interior reflection than in catechetical instruction (139)."
If you're helping the elect (catechumens) prepare for baptism, your catechesis for the next few weeks should more resemble spiritual direction than religious education. Catechumens should have completed their survey of doctrines before this season begins, so they may enter it as a retreat. If you're doing any other form of catechesis, be sure that spiritual formation dominates the goals of any session during this season.
For a quick overview of the lectionary this year, it's easiest to glance at the Gospels. The Gospel stories for Sundays one, two, and six of Lent are the same stories year after year. Since this is year A in the cycle, we hear Matthew's version of these three classic Lenten accounts; the baptism of the Lord, the transfiguration, and the passion of Jesus.
Weeks three, four, and five this year are dominated by the scrutinies for the elect preparing for baptism. These three Gospel stories (the woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus), have been part of the church's Lenten liturgy for centuries. These stories are so tied to the scrutinies that they may be proclaimed in any year when the scrutinies are celebrated. This year the whole church hears them at every Mass.
The first readings blend Bible history with Lenten themes. Although they are frequently best understood in the light of other readings, they form a fascinating sequence of events leading up to the mystery of the cross.
The second readings collect some of the most sublime passages from the Pauline corpus about sin and redemption. Again, we can usually appreciate each one better by examining the other passages for a particular Sunday, but they deserve much meditation all by themselves.
First Sunday of Lent (February 28, 1993)
With Jesus we enter the desert of Lent (Mt 4:1-11), a desert of hunger, thirst, temptation, and beauty. The 40 days of Jesus' retreat model the 40 days the Christian spends in preparation for our entry again into the paschal mystery. The elect will give us a visible sign of desert renewal, and remind us of our challenge to grow in the Spirit.
The obedient Jesus contrasts with the disobedient Adam and Eve (Gen 2:1-9, 3:1-7). Sin enters the world, along with guilt, and the profound need for a savior. Paul picks up the same theme (Rom 5:12-19), contrasting Adam and Christ. This is the passage Augustine quoted when he fashioned the doctrine on original sin.
Catechesis this week may focus on the liturgy (Lent, the liturgical year), canonical responsibilities (fasting, abstinence, Easter duty), or the moral life (sin, temptation, good and evil, right and wrong, original sin). You'll find some good background in Paul VI's "Apostolic Constitution on Penance" (found in the "Order of Penance" or the documents of Vatican II).
Second Sunday of Lent (March 7)
A glimpse of glory this week outshines last week's view of sin. Jesus is transfigured (Mt 17:1-9) before his closest apostles, who get their first inkling of what resurrection will be like. Jesus predicts his resurrection by asking them to say nothing till then.
The descendants of Adam and Eve did not languish long. Abraham receives the promise which will be fulfilled through his wife Sara and their progeny (Gen 12:1-4). The theme of God's promise fulfilled will be gloriously realized on Easter Day.
The brief passage from Paul (2 Tim 1:8-10) captures themes from both readings: God's eternal call from the beginning of time is made manifest in Christ, the fulfillment of our longing, and this good news will illumine/transfigure us all.
Catechesis this week will show the promise of glory that overcomes sin. This theme is critical for balancing the stark message of last week's readings. In spiritual reflection we can focus on the covenant in our lives and in our church. We can explore the spirituality of the revelation of Christ in visions and prayer. We can take hope in spite of our weakened human condition. A text to show how the church continues to grow in sacramentalizing the fullness of the plan of salvation might be Vatican II's "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," (Nostra Aetate).
Third Sunday of Lent (March 14)
The woman at the well (Jn 4:5-42) introduces the first of the great scrutinies of Lent. This is the time when the elect who are preparing for baptism present themselves for our prayer that they may be purged of all evil and filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The woman of Samaria models the process of coming to faith from a realization of sin in the framework of religious devotion and practice. Again, the catechumens show us the way here, and we imitate their example through our Lenten piety.
The Gospel's water theme is introduced in the first reading (Ex 17:3-7) in the story of Moses providing water from the rock for thirsty Israel. Water symbolizes life, refreshment, and the promise of God. The symbol will figure strongly in today's Gospel and, of course, in the mystery of baptism.
One of the most fantastic texts of the season humbly takes its place in today's liturgy. Paul describes the Christian's movement from faith to grace to glory (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8), and then reflects on the immense love of God that allowed Christ to die for us, not because we're so great, but in spite of our sins. It's a text of the bewildering, breathtaking love of God, and its beauty should not be missed.
Catechesis this week may explain the nature of scrutiny, forgiveness, and the challenges baptism will bring for evangelizing others and personal moral living. The water symbol of baptism may also be explored.
Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 21)
Opening our eyes on the first day of spring this year is the story of the man born blind (Jn 9:1-41). Here Jesus cures someone impaired and through this miracle brings conversion and controversy to the community. As always in the Gospels, the cure of blindness immediately invokes a metaphor for coming to faith.
The connection to today's first reading is not immediately so apparent, but the theme is important for a full understanding of the paschal mystery. The story is about God's choice of a king for Israel (1 Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13). If there is a "cure of blindness" going on, it is that God's eyesight is much keener than ours. God chooses the least likely candidate for the office, but David the boy becomes the leader Israel most talked and sang about.
Today's second reading (Eph 5:8-14) shows the analogy between baptism and the movement from darkness to light.
Catechesis could focus on the blindness we find in ourselves, our church, and our society. The concept of Messiah is important to explore, and one could even devote time to the oil of chrism, used in baptism/confirmation, which traces its origins to the Davidic anointing. An unusual and controversial text for these three weeks would be the post-Vatican II document "Christian Faith and Demonology." The concluding section refers to the place of scrutinies and exorcisms in the church's faith and liturgy.
Fifth Sunday of Lent (March 28)
The last of the scrutiny Sundays presents Jesus' greatest miracle (Jn 11:1-45), the raising of Lazarus. Here Jesus defines himself as Lord of life and death, the resurrection and the life. He demands faith from Martha and rewards it with the promise of new life. Those approaching the death of baptism hear that they may rise again to life in Christ.
The first prophecy we hear this season comes from the post-exilic period. Ezechiel (37:12-14) proclaims that God will open the graves of those who are dead and lead them to new life. The death of the exile has come to an end, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem heralds the dawn of a new age. This text invites us to examine the exile created by our sins and to her the promise of rebirth.
Paul contrasts the role of the flesh and the Spirit in the Christian life (Rom 8:8-11). This text warns those to be baptized and those who already are that baptism implies fidelity to the Gospel.
Catechesis may dwell on the meaning of resurrection and its implications for spiritual growth in the Christian's life. Discussion on our spiritual journeys this Lent would be fitting. If needed, some background in Bible history and prophecy could be reviewed. Vatican II's 'Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World' offers reflections on the nature and dignity of the human person in section 12-22.
Passion Sunday (April 4)
The Last Supper, the passion, the death and burial of Jesus -- these stories can never become too familiar.
Matthew's version (26:14-27:66) will contain many familiar scenes, and some we may have forgotten about. It's important to tell the story and reflect on its meaning. This death reveals its full impact in the light of our faith in the incarnation, that God became human and died for us.
St. Paul records the marvelous hymn about Christ emptying himself (Phil 2:6-11), so we don't miss the importance of the story of the passion.
Arguably the most important passage in Isaiah (50:4-7) presents the image of the suffering servant, whose role Jesus perfectly fulfills in his passion and death. This death is not wasted; it redeems the sinner.
Catechesis this week will focus on the story of the passion. Spiritual reflection will ask about what we have died to this Lent, and how we have been redeemed in Christ. No other text need guide us this Sunday but the passion. No other text should we know so well.