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