Dressing for Lent: Our Royal Identity & Surrender by Sackcloth
We are in the middle of our Lent journey which means it is time to wear your sackcloth—wear that lambswool sweater just as is and let the scratching begin…KIDDING.
We begin the season with ashes on our head and continue to wear darker colors as it is not yet spring. This is reflective of John the Baptist—we are expressing that our hearts are slowly dying, decreasing, so that Christ might increase in us (John 3:30). We are preparing ourselves to receive Christ’s gift of self to us on Calvary. We are making space—removing what prevents us from resting and worshiping well.
The Church gathers in Lent with physical expressions of this surrender—a posture ready to receive God’s outpour of mercy in this season. The church buildings are a bit bare—an emptiness—showing that without Christ we are nothing but dust. Creation ceases if even a moment apart from her Creator who sustains and holds all together.
For six weeks we encounter the purple vestments, chalice veil, tabernacle veil, drapery, etc. The rare violet dye pouring out of Scripture and history as a sign of royalty, wealth, and prosperity.
As we wander in the desert, we tend to encounter temptation, spiritual attack, moments of spiritual desolation, fatigue, apathy, etc. Let’s face it—we are fragile. We need the tangible reminder of our own identity as inheritors of the Kingdom—as daughters of the King.
So, as Catholics, we wrap ourselves in expressions of our royal status with bold purples, violets, and lavender garments. We have gained this royal status through Christ’s Sacrifice. The purple expressions call us to meditate upon Christ’s human nature, submitting to the Father’s will in the desert with hunger pains and sweating blood in Gethsemane—not once forgetting Who He is.
Let us adorn ourselves with tangible expressions of royalty and penance, in order that when we are faced with temptations and lies against our identity in the desert, we remember Whose we are and who we are.
Keeping our royal identity consciously in mind, we then have the courage to not shy away from offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to Christ. Often in the Old Testament the act of repentance and returning to God by surrendering control was reflected in the physical expression of putting on “sackcloth and ashes.” For instance, Jonah preaches to the people of Nineveh, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes” (Jonah 3:5-9). This moment exemplifies the posture of laying down an earthly status for the sake of reorienting oneself towards God.
During Lent, we have the opportunity to surrender in little acts of “sackcloth and ashes.” We can make strides in detaching ourselves from the opinions of others and lay down whatever facades we have put up for the sake of people pleasing. Consider experimenting with your wardrobe in a way that reflects you—try new combinations without fear of what others think. Some of us struggle with the need to always have a new outfit or new combination prepared each day—challenge yourself to wear the same outfit as an act of detachment.
On Sundays, we intentionally do not fast because we are given glimpses of the Resurrection, even during Lent. We are called to rejoice with a confident hope in God’s mercy. Take extra time to get ready for Mass. Choose an outfit the night before that makes you excited and joyful keeping in mind as Christ taught: “Do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting” (Matt 6:16). The 4th Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday has the special signs of joy on this day, intended to encourage the faithful in their course through the season of penance some of which are wearing rose-colored vestments and flowers on the altar. Be excited with anticipation and reflect that in your outfit wearing pink and florals that day!
We hope these insights into the Church’s Lenten expressions bring intentionality to what you wear and draw you closer to Christ in your desert wanderings.