It’s like skating

Attendees of the Holy Mass, in its “extraordinary” form, will have been reminded that today is the twentieth of Lent, which is to say, half way through. Anciently, it was half-celebrated, and the liturgy is full of miraculous healings, including the expulsion of devils. Salvation means “healing,” among its other associations; and in recovery, a whole new life. “Laetere Sunday,” the mid-Lent rejoicing, is almost here, and soon the sprinting to the empty tomb. Verily, if I am not mistaken (and how could I be, after checking with the Catholic Encyclopaedia?) signage from today’s Thursday Mass was transferred to the Sunday, centuries ago — including rose vestments, flowers on the altar, dalmatics on the deacons, and some organ music.

The life of Penance continues, but the joyful are reminded that the season is not a test of Will. The fast which we keep, or fail to keep, is not the equivalent of a New Year’s Resolution. That is because it is not all about moi. It is a common activity, and as for the individuals participating, it is continuous and “determinating” (a word from a kid), being all about Him.

A typical human resolution, such as one of mine to do something silly like stop smoking, lasts perhaps five hours. There are year-end monsters of Olympian fortitude who have been known to keep a vow until January 3rd. Hints of the Prussianization of Lent are to be seen on humourlessly Jansenist faces. One tries to be especially frivolous and jocular in Lent, if only to lighten them up. No one is actually encouraged to fail, but surely it is understood that the average faithful Christian falls off one rail or another in a repetitively comic way. And each little bounce reminds, that our beloved Saint Peter went zero-for-three with a rooster.

Which is the thing about Lenten observance. You don’t do it from Ash Wednesday to the next morning, and then give up. You fall, and you get up again. And then you fall again, and rise. Seven times down, and eight times up, according to a fine, thirteenth-century rabbi I was reading. (He’s a beaut; more on him later.)

It is rather like skating, as I recall from earlier in my continuing childhood. And somewhere along the way, you learn to laugh at yourself — the way Christ laughs at you, or Our Lady laughs — or your own mom and dad used to laugh, unless perhaps you had hurt yourself badly. But even then, they had to suppress a giggle, given what they’d just seen.

Now, I am thinking of some girl, a prize-winning figure skater I once saw in action. And of her father, who brought her up alone, after her mother died. And of the tears in his eyes when she won the honour — of joy, honest pride, and remembrance.

“I remember her at three, falling on her ass,” is what he said to me.

So, I should think, the angels in Heaven, when another Christian has, finally, got his act together.