Today, February 17, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is a penitential season set aside to prepare for Easter. Lent focuses on Jesus offering to the Father a life lived in perfect obedience to His will, even to death on the Cross. It was because of this sacrifice that God “greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name” (Phil 2:6-11).
Traditionally, Catholic devotions during Lent have focused on three things: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
We take on more prayers. Many attend Mass daily or, at least, more often than only on Sundays. A holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament would be a wonderful devotion to practice during Lent. Many attend the Stations of the Cross devotion offered at almost every Catholic parish on Fridays during Lent. Spiritual readings often accompany prayer, either of the Bible, especially the daily or Sunday readings, or the life of a saint, or a spiritual classic. The rosary, of course, is a wonderful devotion to offer during the season of Lent, focusing especially on the Sorrowful Mysteries where we reflect on the Lord’s Passion. Of course, there is also the Divine Mercy chaplet. Many parishes schedule more frequent opportunities to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, and some parishes offer Reconciliation services during Lent. Taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent is a good and holy thing to do to prepare for Easter.
Fasting is obliged of Catholics on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday from the day after one’s 18th birthday to the day after one’s 59th birthday. Of course, many choose to participate in the fast of the Church on these days even when younger or older, depending on their health. The rule of fasting is not especially strenuous. It simply means consuming only one full meal on these days and two smaller meals, where the combined amount of food for the two smaller meals does not exceed the amount of food consumed at the one full meal. Many Catholics choose to fast on more days than those on which the Church obliges them in their effort to make Lent a more meaningful season of sacrifice. As well, many Catholics assume the practice of “giving up something” for Lent. The old stand-bys of giving up chocolate, other sweets or a particular food (such as pizza) or drink (such as alcoholic beverages or sodas) have been joined in our age of technology with those who take a Lenten break from social media or the internet. A priest once told me that it doesn’t count to give up something you shouldn’t be doing, anyway! Even still, Lent is a good time to work on those habits of sin that bedevil our effort to live more faithfully the life of the gospel. Certainly our added Lenten prayers and devotion, as well as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, can aid us in this case. Finally, Catholics are obliged to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent from the age of 14 throughout life.
Almsgiving, of course, refers to the practice of sacrificing from the treasure of one’s resources for the sake of the support of the Church and those in need. Along with money, one can offer time and talent. Many are more generous when the collection basket comes around at Mass during Lent (or, now, when contributing online), while others find a charity to support with their Lenten alms. Some families set up a jar or can on the dining room table that collects loose change during the season, contributing what is collected over the weeks to a favorite charity (this is the idea behind the annual Lenten rice bowl many parishes pass out, or the baby bottles filled with coins intended to benefit the local pro-life center). There are all sorts of opportunities for families to serve together, either in the parish or in the community, perhaps at a local soup kitchen or in writing letters to prisoners or shut-ins. Writing letters to family members with whom one has lost touch is an especially nice idea for Lent. Yes, COVID has created some barriers, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to do nothing.
Lent is a gift. Take advantage of the season to renew or strengthen your relationship with Christ and His Church.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.