Today, February 22, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
Let is a season of preparation for Easter, to re-charge our spiritual batteries, so to speak, as we look to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is what Christianity is all about. No Resurrection, no Christianity, and we remain in our sins.
Traditionally, there are three elements to making a good Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Prayer: It is customary for Catholics, and other Christians who celebrate the season, to take on the practice of greater prayers during Lent. This could be as simple as a morning offering to as much as attending daily Mass. The important thing is to do what works for you so that you don’t lose heart and quit after you’ve missed a day or two (which, let’s face it, is likely!). If you’re only getting started, it’s best to start small, so it’ll be easier to be faithful and to keep up your encouragement. If you’re not in the habit of praying a daily rosary, it’s probably not a good idea to commit yourself to praying all four sets of mysteries every day. Start with one, or even with one decade. You can always build on what you’ve done once the habit begins to set in. Think, too, about something you might want to continue after Lent is over – into the Easter season and beyond. Lent is a time of preparation, but also transformation, so the goal is to be a better person come Holy Thursday than we are on Ash Wednesday.
decade of the rosary – you can add another decade each week of Lent until you reach all five by the fifth week
Divine Mercy chaplet
morning offering and evening offering
read a chapter of Scripture or the Gospel for that day from Mass each day and take a few moments to reflect on it
read a chapter of a spiritual classic each day and take a few moments to reflect on it
Fasting and abstinence: Let’s admit it, fasting as a Catholic is pretty easy if you follow “the rules.” A fast is considered one full meal and two smaller meals that combined do not equal one full meal, plus no snacks in between meals. Something tells me that, had Jesus followed those rules for His forty days in the desert, He never would have been tempted by the devil because, He would not have been hungry! Having said that, I’m never one to place a burden on others that Christ and His Church do not place, so go for it if it works for you. The obligation to fast applies to all between the ages of 18 and 59 on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. You are exempt if you are pregnant or nursing a baby, if you are ill on any particular day of fasting, or if you have a chronic illness. Abstinence means not eating meat – so fish and veggies only – and applies to all Catholics age 14 and older on all Fridays of Lent. If possible, it’s recommended that the Good Friday fast is extended until the Easter Vigil on Saturday night and is called the “paschal fast” in honor of our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross.
Associated with fasting and abstinence is the practice of “giving up something for Lent.” Chocolate is always a popular choice, but other foods could be included, or drinks such as alcohol or soda. Some people give up things or practices rather than food, such as Facebook or other social media, TV, or watching so much news, video games, or not spending so much screen time. Again, whatever works for you. It’s no good to give up things you shouldn’t be doing, anyway. “I’m going to give up reading racy magazine for Lent.” C’mon, man! Though it’s a good idea to use Lent as a way to start a new beginning by giving up bad habits and activities.
“Giving up something for Lent” is not an obligation the Church places on Catholics. It’s a personal devotion to be considered by each individual believer to help him or her prepare for Easter. A good practice would be to take the money you would have spent on what you’ve given up and donate that to the Church or other worthy charity, or to take the time you would have spent doing what you’ve given up for Lent and volunteer that time to help others. Sacrifice is the key, and sacrifice can mean giving up something or taking on more for the sake of others in honor of the sacrifice of our Lord for us.
Almsgiving: The third element of celebrating a good Lent is almsgiving. Basically, that means giving more of your time, talent, and treasure to the Church and/or other good causes that focus especially on helping others. This is one area that ought to take some serious reflection, because it’s definitely something you may want to consider continuing into the Easter season and even after. Increasing your Sunday contribution, participating in Rice Bowl, finally signing up to help out with the St. Vicent de Paul organization, the Ladies of Charity, the Knights of Columbus charities, or the local food pantry. All of these and more are things to consider. How you give to the Church can also include your time and talent: becoming a lector or Eucharistic Minister, signing up for the nursery or the church clean-up crew, joining the choir. There are so many ways to serve the Church and the wider community. What are your talents and interests? Talk to the priest or a deacon about what’s available and how you make a difference.
Easter Duty: Associated with the seasons of Lent and Easter is the Easter Duty. The Church obliges all Catholics who have been initiated to the Eucharist to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, preferably during the Easter season. The dates available for Catholics to receive Holy Communion and fulfill this obligation differ from country to country, but in the United States, according to Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary, those dates are from the First Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday, inclusive. Reception of Holy Communion should be preceded by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation, and this is obligatory if the Catholic is aware of any mortal sins he or she has committed since their last confession. The Church encourages Catholics to receive Holy Communion often, as it is our participation in the passion, death, Resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. We unite ourselves with Him and are nourished by Him to live the life of the gospel more faithfully. Frequent confession of our sins, not just mortal, is also a good practice that will help us grow spiritually, making us more attuned to those areas of our life where we especially struggle to be faithful.
Here is a nice prayer from Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org/lent/story.php?id=73813) to help get Lent started.
Dear Lord, we are now in the holy season of Lent. We begin to realize anew that these are the days of salvation, these are the acceptable days. We know that we are all sinners. We know that in many things we have all offended Your infinite majesty. We know that sin destroys Your life in us as a drought withers the leaves and chokes the life from the land, leaving an arid, dusty desert. Help us now, Lord, in our feeble attempts to make up for past sin. Bless our efforts with the rich blessing of Your grace. Make us realize ever more our need of penance and of mortification. Help us to see, in our ordinary difficulties and duties, in the trials and temptations of every day, the best opportunity of making up for past infidelities. Every day we are so often reminded in field and wood, in sky and stream, of Your own boundless generosity to us. Help us to realize that You are never outdone in generosity, and that the least thing we do for You will be rewarded, full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and flowing over. Then we shall see, in our own souls, how the desert can blossom, and the dry and wasted land can bring forth the rich, useful fruit that was expected of it from the beginning. Amen.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.