Fresh hooks for annual occasions

lent07Each year, I like to look at what stories the mainstream media publish for Lent. The papers that noted Ash Wednesday, such as the Indianapolis Star, Newsday and the Orange County Register, published brief stories about the imposition of ashes. Others went searching for a creative hook. Agence France Press, for instance, wrote about the Roman Catholic Church in Austria offering an SMS service for the faithful. During each of the 40 days of Lent, those who signed up receive quotes from Pope Benedict XVI.The Telegraph (U.K.) wrote about two Church of England bishops who are calling on parishioners to give up carbon for Lent by avoiding plastic bags, giving the dishwasher a day off, insulating the hot water tank and checking the house for drafts:

Those taking part in the Carbon Fast will be asked to remove one lightbulb from a prominent place in the home and live without it for 40 days. On the final days of the Fast they will be asked to replace it with a low-energy bulb which over its lifetime will save 60kg of carbon dioxide per year and up to £60.

But I thought the best entries were by Ann Rodgers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and K. Connie Kang at the Los Angeles Times. Rodgers' story is about the Pittsburgh Diocese pushing for a return to the practice of confession. She mentions that the sacrament is also available in the Eastern, Episcopal and Lutheran churches. lent

After the Rev. Thomas Burke says Mass at St. Paul Cathedral, he enters his reconciliation room to hear confession and offer absolution. Penitents can kneel before a stained glass partition so that Father Burke can't see them, or join him on the other side, seated by a small table with a box of tissues.

Whether it's called confession or penance or reconciliation, "it's one of my favorite sacraments," Father Burke said.

"I try to comfort them and offer hope and healing, and tell them that they shouldn't beat themselves up. This is not the end of the world. I always give them my business card so they can stay in touch," he said.

Kang's story was a nice overview of how Ash Wednesday is being celebrated in the Los Angeles area. But I loved her hook. Many times people justify not covering liturgical seasons on the grounds that it's not newsworthy. The same feasts, holy days and seasons happen year after year. Well, Kang looked at what was different about Ash Wednesday this year and came up with something that people in my church were discussing. It's early this year:

Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, is observed by much of the Western church on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the equinox.

At Masses and services today, priests and ministers will apply ashes in the sign of a cross -- indicating inner repentance -- to the foreheads of Christians.

Easter often occurs in April and the word Lent comes from Anglo-Saxon lencten, meaning spring. But this year, because of cycles of the moon, Easter, or Resurrection Day as many prefer, will be observed March 23. The last time it occurred on that date Woodrow Wilson was president. Ash Wednesday in 1913 was Feb. 5, a day earlier than today because this is a leap year, which adds an extra day in the middle of the Lenten season.

So with Christmas decorations barely put away, churches have been gearing up for 40 days of repentance, reflection and fasting.

All in all, some good efforts this year. There's no reason reporters can't continue to write about the penitential season of Lent so let us know if you see any other good stories.

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