Lent is the time of spiritual preparation prior to the Easter season, just as Advent is for Christmas. Jesus taught us clearly that there is no resurrection without the cross, and Lent is the Church’s great spiritual journey as she, the Bride of Christ, joins her Divine spouse in His great suffering on our behalf.

In a nutshell:

“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 penance to prepare our hearts Easter, the greatest of all Christian feasts.

MESSAGE FROM THE HOLY FATHER

Each year the Holy Father offers his Lenten theme, his exhortation for us to focus on for each new Lent. You can Pope Francis’ theme for 2015 and his reflection in its entirety at the link below (it is definitely worth your time to read!) and a snippet is included below.

Pope Francis’ Lenten theme for 2015:

“Make your hearts firm” (James 5:8)

As a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency, I would invite everyone to live this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31). A merciful heart does not mean a weak heart. Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others.

During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum”Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.

It is my prayerful hope that this Lent will prove spiritually fruitful for each believer and every ecclesial community. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.” -Pope Francis

Lenten Season 101 A Guide

HELPFUL DEFINITIONS:

 

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 and seafood
  • 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.

 

IMPORTANT DUTIES DURING LENT:

 

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.

 

BEST PRACTICES:

  • 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!

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Comments

  1. Judy Eidson says

    Thank you so much for your great article! As a brand new Catholic, I really needed a clarification on everything concerning Lent. You have been a tremendous help. God bless you!

  2. Marge says

    A wonderful, concise overview of Lent and what it means for Catholics–am sharing this with my email discussion ladies right now.

  3. Amy L says

    Thank you for the great article. What is the name of the painting of Christ on the cross? Can I get a print of it?

  4. says

    Thanks Amy. I found the image online, I’m not sure what the name is or if it’s available for purchase. You can check out our selection of San Damiano crucifixes which is a Byzantine style of icon cross. Just go to our homepage and type “San Damiano” into the search box.

  5. Babs says

    Not too sure if I agree with the fish verses meat thing. What kind of sacrifice is it to give up a burger or for lobster, shrimp, which are expensive. I have been Catholic my whole life & never understood that concept. I think there needs to be better definition of meat & fish.

  6. says

    Hi Babs, the abstinence laws of the Church consider that “meat” comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep, pigs, and birds — all of which live on land. Seafood and shellfish and other things from the ocean are not considered meat. However the USCCB does address your concern: “While fish, lobster and other shellfish are not considered meat and can be consumed on days of abstinence, indulging in the lavish buffet at your favorite seafood place sort of misses the point. Abstaining from meat and other indulgences during Lent is a penitential practice. On the Fridays of Lent, we remember the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday and unite ourselves with that sacrifice through abstinence and prayer.” You can read more here: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/questions-and-answers-about-lent.cfm

  7. Teresa says

    Great article…thank you Gretchen. I am a cradle Catholic and am always glad to read interesting facts about my faith. It seems when we were growing up we weren’t given a great deal of facts…we were just expected to do what we were told…or maybe I just wasn’t listening…LOL.
    question: I saw a sign on a local church (non-Catholic) that said Lent…stands for lengthening days…what??? Seems like someone missed the point.

  8. says

    Is it not wonderful to be Catholic and have such a beautiful Season of reflection on the teachings of the Church. Thank you for your insight and love for our Lord.

  9. says

    Thank you so much for the article on Lent. It’s nice to have a schedule of all of the important dates of Lent and what is expected. I’m a new Catholic as well so I’m still learning everything that is being Catholic.

  10. Rebecca hamiltom says

    Thank u for the articles. I am a returning catholic and need this information as I can’t remember every thing they taught us in school.

  11. says

    Hi Ann, thank you so much for this comment. Yes, images do get used all over and it is difficult to locate the original source of an image. Your work is very beautiful! We will hyperlink the photo to the link you’ve given here. Unless you would prefer us to remove the image, in which case we can do that as well. God bless and thank you for your beautiful sacred art.

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