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. Basically, you don’t get the joy of Easter without the self-sacrifice of Lent; the disciples of Jesus follow in his footsteps … including the bloody ones.

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.

 

LENT 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 Benedict XVI

 

LENTEN MESSAGE FROM THE HOLY FATHER

 

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday (this year February 10, 2016) and ends on Holy Thursday (this year March 24th, 2016). Each year the Holy Father offers a new Lenten theme, his exhortation to the faithful as they enter the liturgical season in mind and heart.  This Lent is special because it falls during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. You can read Pope Francis’ theme for 2016 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 2016:

“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
– The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee –

“For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness.

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches.

Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).”

Prepare for all the important parts of Lent with this handy 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 Benedict XVI

 

IMPORTANT DAYS DURING LENT:

 

Ash Wednesday: Marks the start of Lent and the time for penance. Obligatory day of fasting (ages 18 to 59) and abstinence (ages 14 & over).

Fridays of Lent:  Obligatory abstinence  (ages 14 & over). All Fridays (even outside of Lent) are days of penance.

Holy Thursday: Lent ends and the Holy Triduum begins in the evening with the commemoration of 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) and abstinence (ages 14 & over).

Holy Saturday:  Christ is in the grave conquering death and freeing the captives. Final day of Lenten fasting (no daily Mass, Easter Vigil begins 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 has ended and the 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.

 

OBLIGATORY DUTIES FOR CATHOLICS DURING LENT:

 

Fasting & Abstinence:  Our obligatory duty on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Abstinence: Do not eat meat on the Fridays of Lent. Treat it as a day of penance.

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 LENTEN PRACTICES:

 

  • The entire season of Lent is a penitential season. The liturgical color for Lent is purple (just like Advent) to show that it is a special time of penance. Taking up additional practices, such as self-imposed fasting outside of the obligatory times, Lenten devotions and spiritual reading, Stations of the Cross, a daily rosary, serving the poor, 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. One traditional devotion towards this sacrament is to make a general confession of your whole life using an examination of conscience.
  • Attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. While it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, all are encouraged to attend to receive ashes on the forehead.
  • 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 service 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. Pray for those being received into the Church at this Mass.
  • 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. Greet one another with the Paschal Greeting/Easter Acclamation, “Christ is risen!” and the response, “He is risen indeed!”

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.

This article was originally published in February 2014. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.

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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.

  12. Marsha says

    Thank you for posting this information. I found it very helpful and plan to follow it closely during this lent.

  13. says

    Gretchen, we came across your article on St. Peter Chrysologus’ and Fasting. Thank you so much. We were very excited to see that you are a recent convert to The Church. We are, too! After 34 years of Protestant ministry we completed our journey home to The Catholic Church at Easter Vigil 2015! We have blogged about our own journey. Today we shared your articles link with our readers. I know they will be inspired as we all prepare for Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast 2016. Bless you, Gretchen!

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