Lent begins Ash Wednesday, March 2nd (one week from today).
First, I’ll give facts about Lent.
Then, I’ll give advice for this important season.
Lent is a liturgical season that leads to the greatest feast of the year: Easter.
It’s a penitential season in which Christians make sacrifices to show sorrow for sin and gratitude for the sufferings Christ endured for our redemption.
It consists of forty weekdays and six Sundays. Weekdays are devoted to acts of penance but Sundays are not.
When “forty” is used in Scripture, it represents a significant event. It usually refers to an extended period of trial, punishment, vigil, or repentance.
For example: forty days and nights of rain during the flood, the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness, Elijah’s forty day fast.
The word Lent comes from the Middle English Lencten which means “spring.”
In connection with the season of spring, our souls are meant to experience growth and renewal during Lent.
…By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert (Catechism 540).
After Jesus’ baptism, He was led into the desert to prepare for His public ministry.
During that time Jesus fasted, prayed and was tempted by the devil.
During Lent Christians are called to enter into this mystery through increased fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting (denying ourselves) so we may grow in self-discipline and be better equipped to resist the world, the flesh and the devil.
Prayer (spending time with God) so we may grow closer to Him and better hear His voice.
Almsgiving (performing acts of charity) so we may grow in love for our neighbor and better serve others.
Catholics are required to practice fasting and abstinence during Lent.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence [no meat].
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.
Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.
If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection (USCCB).
Here are additional ways to fast.
- Fast every Wednesday and/or Friday by eating only one full meal or consuming only bread and water.
- Give up social media or limit its use. Delete the app on your phone so you’re not tempted to use it. If it’s inconvenient to use, it’s easier to avoid.
- Give up something you feel attached to or dependent on (e.g. caffeine, sugar, vaping, TV shows, video games).
Here are some ways to pray.
- Spend time in silence. This can be done anywhere (e.g. your bedroom, office, car, outdoors, the church). Just a few minutes resting in silence each day makes a big difference.
- Consciously offer up any suffering you experience, big or small, for a specific intention or person. For example:
- Headache for your spouse, significant other or future spouse (known or unknown)
- Back pain for the conversion of sinners
- Fatigue or exhaustion for priests and religious
- Frustration for someone you find it difficult to love
- Sadness for consolation of Jesus’ Sacred Heart and Mary’s Immaculate Heart
- Go to confession! Catholics must receive Holy Communion at least once during the Easter season. For any mortal sins committed, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is required before receiving Holy Communion. It’s also strongly recommended as a penitential act for venial sins. For more on confession, visit a previous post.
Here are some ways to practice charity.
- Evaluate spending habits and eliminate whatever isn’t necessary (e.g. eating out, entertainment, new clothes, accessories, aesthetic procedures). Donate the money saved to a charity or parish.
- Give a card or note to someone to express gratitude, encouragement or support.
- Conserve resources (e.g. use reusable water bottles instead of disposable, turn off the light when leaving a room, buy and cook only the amount of food needed so none is wasted).
If you choose to follow my suggestions, focus on one from each category or just one or two actions.
It’s better to fully commit to one action than to do multiple half-heartedly.
Remember, our Lenten practices aren’t meant to be a competition. They’re meant to show God we love Him, foster a spirit of repentance and unite us with our Christian brothers and sisters.
Let us devote this season to preparing our souls to receive the Risen Lord at Easter.
And let us be open to all of the graces He has in store for us.
Consider choosing a patron saint for Lent!
You can pray to them and ask them to journey with you.
Below are some to consider. Click the name to learn more.