Lent in the Maronite Church begins with Cana Sunday, (not Ash Monday). Cana Sunday is a wedding invitation. We are all being invited to a wedding feast with Christ.
Transformation is a very important theme of this Gospel and also the theme of the Liturgy.
Firstly, for all of us Great Lent is a journey and like the water being transformed into wine we are called to transformation and repentance this Great Lent.
Secondly, wine in is a symbol of Jewish Torah. At the Wedding of Cana we see that the Jewish law is not going to be sufficient for the guests. Jesus came to transform the law and eventually he will pour out his own blood to transform us.
“In place of the old Law, you have given us your new Gospel, and instead of the fruit of the vine, you have quenched our thirst with the chalice of your redeeming blood.” (Prayer of Forgiveness)
There is a very clear sacramental image in this Gospel. Jesus asks the servants to get water in the jars kept for the purification rite. The water is then turned to wine and nobody knows how it happens. Jesus then asks the servants to serve the wine to the guests. In the Mass the bread turns into the body of Christ and the wine turns into the blood of Christ. It is part of the mystery of the Eucharist. This is a foreshadowing of what we will witness at the end of Great Lent, the pouring out of the cleansing wine on the cross and the glorious resurrection.
Another distinct Maronite imagery which we are introduced to this week is the image of the “Harbour of Salvation’.
“O Lord, bless our families and our Lenten journey, that we may reach the harbour of salvation, which is the glorious feast of your Resurrection.” (Forgiveness Prayer)
In other parts of the Liturgy we are reminded that Christ is the Promise of true life, the heavenly Physician, and the harbour of rest and salvation. The theme of the Harbour and the nautical journey are an important part of the Syriac tradition and can be seen in Ephrem’s Hymn on Virginity:
O Master Mariner,
Who has conquered the raging sea
Your glorious wood is a sign
It has become the oar of salvation
The wind of mercy blew,
The ship set out on its course
Away from the raging sea to the haven of peace
Blessed is he who has become the mariner of his own soul
And has preserved and unloaded his treasure
At the end of Great Lent we see the distinct Maronite rite of Arrival at Harbour. It is celebrated on the evening of Hosanna Sunday and marks the beginning of Passion Week. We are reminded on that night that our journey which started at Cana Sunday ends with the “ark” which is the Church, arriving safely at the Harbour of Salvation, Christ himself.
The rite begins with the faithful gathering in front of the closed door of the Church with candles as the Wise Virgins (Mt.25 1-13) awaiting the Bridegroom. The Priest then knocks on the Church door three times before it is open to let in the faithful of Christ, who will live the sufferings of Passion Week culminating in the great plan of salvation with Christ’s resurrection.
(The photo is of the Franciscan Church in Modern day Cana, in the area where Christ performed this first sign)
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