The Lent that became Advent


“What do we do with the void?”


You may have heard, “Pray every Mass as if it was your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”

This past Tuesday, I went to an early morning Mass at a church dedicated to St. Patrick for his feast day. When a church celebrates its patronal feast day, it is celebrated as a solemnity. So there, in the middle of Lent, Father wore white vestments, we prayed the Gloria, and there was an air of solemn celebration, a break from purple and penance.

Due to my role working for the diocese, I knew something no one else but Father knew. It was our last Mass for quite some time. The Bishop would be making an announcement just a few hours later. He was joining with numerous other bishops throughout the country to make the difficult decision to suspend the public celebration of holy Mass for the next several weeks.

As soon as Mass started, and I heard the scattered voices around the church respond united in prayer, it hit me. I knew this was my last. They did not. This was a bittersweet solemnity.

It was easy for me, in the beginning, to concentrate on every prayer. I wanted to hang on every word and take in every moment. Having been given a unique privilege to know this was my last Mass, I didn’t want to waste the knowledge. “Pray every Mass as if it was your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”

Do not think too highly of me – my piety waned at times, and I was plagued with the distractions and mind-wandering that I struggle with during every Mass. Yet as soon as I realized it, I snapped back to attention.

Two days into the fast from the Eucharist, and I have begun to feel the void. It’s not because I’m holy. Rather, it’s because I’m not. I go to daily Mass because working for the Church is like being on the front lines, and I need all the help I can get. I’m a sinner and I can’t do any of this without Him.

If you don’t have the opportunity and gift to go to daily Mass, the void may not hit you until Sunday. Or maybe next Sunday.

My prayer right now is that we all feel the void.

We need to feel the emptiness of a world without frequent reception of the Eucharist. To be clear, Mass is happening. Our priests are praying for us at every Mass they celebrate. Their private chapels and oratories are packed with the Church triumphant and the Church suffering, and everyone is praying for us.

Jesus does not withhold His grace from us. Jesus is not far from us.

That is why my prayer is that we all feel the void. Most Catholics take the reception of Holy Communion for granted. I know I do. We go through the motions. Sundays come and go. Daily Mass is a luxury.

No longer. I pray that we feel the void. The world looks differently when I can’t receive Jesus sacramentally. Life feels differently when I can’t eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Lent has become Advent.

So what do we do while we wait? What do we do with the void? We run to Him. We turn to the Scriptures and pray lectio divina. Grasping our rosaries, we turn to His Mother and ask for her help. We go to a quiet place, alone, and speak to Him. When was the last time I entered into deep mental prayer? Now is the time.

The practice of making spiritual communions is foreign to most Catholics. It wasn’t part of our daily lives. We thought it didn’t need to be. We were wrong. Go to Him. We can’t receive Him sacramentally, but He doesn’t withhold His grace from us.

This was not an easy decision for any bishop. No one wants what is happening right now. But God has not abandoned His people. We must remain united in prayer, confident that this strange Lent-become-Advent will be a purifying time for the people of God.

As I prayed before that last Mass, the weight of the next few weeks on my heart, this quote was waiting for me in my daily devotion. Let us see the hand of God in this. He has not abandoned us. He is here.

“It is true that life, which by its nature is already rather narrow and uncertain, sometimes becomes difficult. — But that will help you to become more supernatural and to see the hand of God. Then you will be more human and understanding with those around you.” (Josemaria Escriva, Furrow 762)


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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