Lent is the time of spiritual preparation prior to the Easter season, just as Advent is for Christmas.
“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 Emeritus Benedict XVI
Here’s a rundown of everything major you need to know about the Lenten season, the 40 days of preparation before the greatest of all Christian feasts, Easter.
- Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (this year March 5, 2014) and finishes on Holy Saturday (this year April 19, 2014) with the start of Easter Vigil.
- The Three Pillars of Lent:
Pope Francis’ Lenten theme for 2014:
“He became poor so, that by His poverty you might become rich.”
“May this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can so this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.
May the Holy Spirit, through whom we are ‘as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything’ (2 Cor 6:10), sustain us in our resolutions and increase our concern and responsibility for human destitution, so that we can become merciful and act with mercy. In expressing this hope, I likewise pray that each individual member of the faithful and every Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey.” -Pope Francis
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 conquering death. Final day of Lent & of fasting (no daily Mass, Easter Vigil at sundown).
Sacred Triduum: The period of 3 days (Holy Thursday + Good Friday + Holy Saturday) during which we remember Christ’s Passion, ending at the Easter Vigil (Saturday evening).
Easter Sunday: Lent is over and joy begins, the day of Christ’s resurrection, the principle Christian feast of the entire liturgical year. This is the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death merited for us by his passion, death, and resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
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.
- The entire season of Lent should be a penitential season. The liturgical color for Lent is purple (just like Advent) to show that it is a special time of penance. Self-imposed fasting at other times outside of the obligations to do so on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, special Lenten devotions and spiritual reading, Stations of the Cross, etc. all enhance the penitential and spiritual aspect of Lent.
- Make the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) an important part of your Lenten penitential practice. Many parishes have special times for confession during Lent.
- Attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. While it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, all are encouraged to attend.
- Attend Mass on Holy Thursday to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, called the “Mass of the Lord’s Supper.”
- 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 for a 3 o’clock service.
- Participate in the veneration of the Cross at your parish on Good Friday.
- Continue your Good Friday fast up to the start of the Easter Vigil, to correspond to the entire time from Christ’s death on the cross until his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
- Attend the Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday to welcome the Easter Sunday feast.
- On Easter Sunday and throughout the Easter season, fully celebrate the joy of Christ’s Resurrection and the conquering of sin and death he merited for us!