Here’s a rundown of everything major you need to know about the Lenten season, the 40 days of preparation before the greatest Christian feast, Easter:
–Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (this year February 13, 2013) and finishes on Holy Saturday (this year March 30, 2013) with the start of Easter Vigil.
–The Three Pillars of Lent:
“Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” -Pope Benedict XVI
Fast: Eating less food than normal (does not necessarily mean no food).
- What you can eat: One normal, full-sized meal, and two smaller meals which if combined would not exceed one full meal.
- Why: “Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.” –Pope Benedict XVI
Abstinence: Do not eat meat.
- What you can eat: fish
- Why: “Catholic peoples from time immemorial have set apart Friday for special penitential observance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of the tradition of abstinence from meat on Friday where that tradition has been observed in the holy Catholic Church.” –USCCB
Almsgiving: Material generosity to the less fortunate.
- What you can give: money, goods, acts of charity
- Why: Almsgiving “represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods . . . Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor’s needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness.” –Pope BenedictXVI
Important days during Lent:
Ash Wednesday: Marks the start of Lent & the time for penance. Obligatory day of fasting (ages 18 to 59) & Abstinence (ages 14 & over).
Fridays of Lent: Obligatory Abstinence (ages 14 & over). All Fridays (even outside of Lent) are days of penance.
Holy Thursday: Commemorates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
Good Friday: The anniversary of the Crucifixion of Christ (no Mass). Obligatory day of fasting (ages 18 to 59) & Abstinence (ages 14 & over).
Holy Saturday: Christ is in the grave. Final day of Lent & fasting (no daily Mass, Easter Vigil at sundown).
Easter Sunday: Lent is over and joy begins, the day of Christ’s resurrection, the principle Christian feast of the entire liturgical year.
Fasting & Abstinence: See above.
Confession: Catholics are obligated to fulfill their Easter Duty by receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Easter season (from Easter Sunday to Pentecost), therefore the Sacrament of Penance for any mortal sins is required prior to this, and is strongly recommended as a Lenten penitential practice for any venial sins prior to the Easter feast.
- Attend Mass on Ash Wednesday.
- The entire season of Lent should be a penitential season. Self-imposed fasting at other times outside of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, special Lenten devotions, Stations of the Cross, etc. all enhance the penitential and spiritual aspect of Lent.
- Continue your Good Friday fast up to the Easter Vigil, to correspond to the entire time from Christ’s death on the cross until his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
- Attend Mass on Holy Thursday to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.
- At 3 o’clock on Good Friday, pause and make a special effort to keep this hour sacred, as the hour of Christ’s death on the cross, after which redemption for mankind was completed. Praying the Divine Mercy chaplet is ideal or check your parish fora 3 o’clock service.
- Participate in the veneration of the Cross at your parish on Good Friday.
- Attend the Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday to welcome the Easter Sunday feast.