Once upon a time: Preparing for a ‘good’ Lent

Churches old and new are inspiration for a closer relationship with God

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

Immaculate Conception Church has covered Summit Hill in Knoxville since the 1880s. Typical of many churches of that era, architects saw little need for a large vestibule.

People came to church to pray and to visit the Lord, not each other.

Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Chattanooga, Immaculate Conception, Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville, and the original St. Mary Church in Johnson City bear this out. One of the challenges facing Catholic worshippers following Vatican II was the need for a space in which to socialize.

The vestibule at Immaculate Conception was built for the needs of the time, and it was tiny. This area just inside the front doors, as wide as the church itself, was filled with masonry columns that supported the church’s central tower and clock.

If the three spaces could be divided, they could be split into even smaller areas. The front doors match the doors looking from the vestibule into the main church. The Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga seated 1,000 people; Immaculate Conception seated some 525 people, and Holy Ghost held 400 seats.

At Immaculate Conception, a platform was installed in the right-hand corner of the space provided by the center door. It measured some three feet by five feet and was some 20 inches above the floor.

Fastened to that platform was a pamphlet rack that held some 100 pamphlets, with some of the literature marked a penny, some a nickel and others a dime or quarter.

One especially popular series was written by Father Dan Lord, SJ, writing for The Queen’s Work in St. Louis. There were pictures on the cover of Father Lord’s pamphlets, and one depicted a child with his face contorted with the title, “I don’t like Lent.”

As we approach Lent, that picture comes back to me. I don’t like Lent either, but I use that time every year to pray, to make sacrifices, to read, and to do penance. Holy Week in any of our parishes was wonderful if we had a “good” Lent, so I recommend that to our readers. A tough Lent, a Holy Week that is just that – holy – makes for an Easter of great joy and happiness.

I may not like Lent, but I can use it to grow spiritually.

What are some of the ways to make Lent holy?

Well, at the top of the list is daily Mass. Mass is the way to promote our holiness. I know a few people who go to Mass every day throughout the year, and some go to two Masses every day during Lent. Of course, there is no Mass on Good Friday and only one on Holy Saturday. But these are special times.

Then there is the rosary. Non-Catholics “tell of the beads,” and it’s a wonderful practice. The Liturgy of the Hours, particularly prayed as a group, is a fine Lenten practice.

Lent is an especially good time for other prayers and for spiritual reading. Visiting the sick and the homebound is another way to have a good Lent. Visiting churches, saying the Pater Noster, Ave

Maria, Gloria, and praying for the Holy Father, while good any time, is especially laudable during Lent. Praying the Stations of the Cross is a fine way to “do” Lent.

Doing kind things for others is a fine way to practice Lent, and reading about what the saints did through the ages to prepare for Easter is another fine way to get ourselves to celebrate the paschal feast.

Many of us send Christmas cards. Why not send Easter cards, too?

Above all, please think about Lent this year. Then love it and live it! Happy Easter. ■

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general and the historical archivist for the Diocese of Knoxville.

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