Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The season of Lent begins this Wednesday. As ashes are imposed on our heads, they become the physical reminder of our desire for repentance, conversion, and growth in holiness. The forty days of Lent prepare us for the celebration of the Passion of the Lord and help us to look forward to the fulfillment of the Messianic mission of Jesus on Easter Sunday. If you have not yet given any thought to how you will observe this holy season, now is the time to start!
During Lent, we are very familiar with the practices the Church exhorts us to undertake in order to enter most fully into the penitential character of the time. We are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The common question is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” An unfortunately common rejoinder has become, “Instead of giving something up, you can do something.” As ubiquitous as this can be in conversation with our Catholic friends, I submit that our answer should always be three-fold. Lenten discipline is not an either-or proposition. Rather, Lenten discipline rests on three pillars, and all three are needed for the good of our spiritual lives. As we prepare for this season, let’s take a quick look at each of the disciplines.
Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God. This is done spontaneously, liturgically, devotionally. Some prayer is memorized, or rote, while other moments of prayer arise from the depth of the human heart. A Lenten prayer resolution might be “to pray the Rosary daily,” or “to participate in the Stations of the Cross every Friday,” or “to attend morning Mass each day.”
Fasting means to refrain from something that is good for the sake of offering some small sacrifice to God. It helps train us in discipline and self-control. Most often, fasting refers to food, though it can also refer to refraining from some activity or habit. A Lenten fasting resolution might be “to fast from dessert,” or “to drink only black coffee,” or “to give up watching television. Besides these personally chosen fasts, the Church prescribes a common fast that all Catholics can undertake together. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
Almsgiving means very simply giving to the poor. Scripture tells us countless times of our duty to help the poor. When we share our resources, we not only assist those whose needs are greater than ours, we also cultivate a spirit of detachment from earthly things, which in turn disposes us to rely more fully on God’s providence. Almsgiving is practiced by giving money directly, by donations to charity, and by works of service, especially when volunteering to serve in charitable institutions.
The disciplines of Lent are accompanied by the call of the Lord we will hear on Ash Wednesday: “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.” Repentance means to turn away from sin, to acknowledge our wrongdoing, and to ask forgiveness. The Sacrament of Confession is the ordinary means for us to repent of our sins. In this great sacrament, we encounter the mercy of God in powerful ways. As Lent begins, I encourage you to go to Confession. You will find a list of local confession times in this bulletin.
Our schedule on Ash Wednesday is as follows:
7 AM – Prayer Service with distribution of ashes
8:30 AM – Mass with distribution of ashes
12:00 PM – Prayer Service with distribution of ashes
5:30 PM – Prayer Service with distribution of ashes
7 PM – 8 PM – Confessions