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.
“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
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.
- 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!