Lent starts on Ash Wed, Feb 13 and ends with the start of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, which is the beginning of the Triduum. Easter Sunday is March 28.
What is Lent?
Lent is the forty-day liturgical season of fasting, special prayer and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. The name "Lent" is from the Middle English Lenten and Anglo-Saxon Lenten, meaning spring; its more primitive ecclesiastical name was the "forty days," tessaracoste in Greek.
Are Sundays a part of Lent?
Sundays are always a day of celebration of Christ's passion and Resurrection, so we celebrate on these days. While still part of the season of Lent, they have a mixture of both celebration (because it is Sunday) and repentance (because it is Lent).
Does this mean I can "cheat" on Sundays?
Since Sundays are not part of the penitential season, you are not required to practice signs of penitence on these days. But, there is no reason you can't do them either. If you feel you are "cheating" then it isn't helping! Since the Church has some conflicting information (different documents state different things) I think you should do what you feel is best regarding the Lenten season and Sundays. In other words, follow your conscience.
Why forty days and not some other number?
Because 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special - as in the 40 day flood of Noah.
*Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai forty days (Ex 24:18), Jonah gives the people of Ninevah forty days to repent (Jon 3:4) - (there are many other Old Testament stories).
*Jesus, before starting his ministry, spent 40 days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2).So, as in the Bible, we spend 40 days in preparing ourselves to rejoice at the Resurrection of our Lord at Easter.
What is Ash Wednesday all about?
Ash Wednesday is so named because this first day of Lent is where we are marked with ashes to show the repentance of our sins and mourning. This is also a Biblical sign that we live today. We can see this in several verses.
"I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Dan 9:3)
Other verses include: 1 Sam 4:12, Jon 3:6, Esther 4:1 and Matt 11:20-21Today, ashes are still this same sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. "I am nothing but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.
Because it is the ancient sign of being marked by Christ in our baptism. We are no longer our own, but Jesus Christ owns us. The book of Revelation tells us that all the elect will be marked by the sign of Christ - "On Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads." (Rev 14:1)
Where do we get the ashes?
They come from burning the palms from last years Palm Sunday Masses.
Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wed. While we have communion only for Catholics who are in good standing with the Church, all may receive ashes.
Is Ash Wed a holy day of Obligation?
Yes. But all Catholics are strongly urged to attend, because it is the start of the Lenten season.
Do we have to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wed?
Yes. This means that all Catholics from 14 and up are required to abstain from meat and Catholics 18-60 are required to eat only one average meal and two snacks without anything else. Children, the elderly and those who are sick are not obligated to do this.
Again, this is because we are called to by Jesus. By denying ourselves something good, we remember what the highest good of all is - GOD. We also practice self-discipline and self-mastery, which we need in order to achieve holiness. Jesus fasted in the desert and calls us to as well.
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." (Matt 6: 16) "and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer." (Luke 2:37)
Fasting also helps focus us in our prayer. *Yet when they were ill, I...humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm 35:13)Why abstain from meat?
Because of the spiritual discipline it provides. "In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . 'I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.'" (Dan 10:1-3) We give up meat, which still today is a luxury in some parts of the world, as a good thing that we offer up in order to remember that Christ is better than food and needed more by all of us than anything else.
Why is fish not considered meat?
Because it was the food of the poor who could not afford meat, yet could catch fish to sustain themselves.
So, what are the other days of fast and abstinence?
Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from meat, this is because Christ died on a Friday.
So, why do people "give up" things during Lent?
While we are not required to “give something up” we are required to do something penitential. Lent is a great time to break a bad habit and give it to the Lord. These sins and vices we should not take back after Lent. It is also a time to give something up that is good during this season. This is why people give up something they enjoy. In doing so we can draw closer to God by our temporary sacrifice. We should find an appropriate balance of giving something up and not completely cutting ourselves off of good things. We will find our need for God if we do it correctly.
What else then is required during Lent?
The Church asks us to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is assumed that we are already doing these things and should merely increase them.
Got any suggestions?
First off, pray about what you are going to do for Lent. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your spiritual practice of Lent. Then find a few things that you feel called to do. Don't do too much or too little. Stretch yourself, but don't pick things you won't stick to.
1. Slow Down - Set aside 20 minutes a day for silent prayer or meditation. It will revitalize your body and your spirit.
2. Read a good book - You could choose the life of a saint, a spiritual how-to, an inspirational book or one of the pope's new books.
3. Be kind - Go out of your way to do something nice for someone else every day.
4. Get involved - Attend a Lenten lecture or spiritual program.
5. Volunteer at your parish - Whether it's the parish fish fry, cleaning the church or helping with the food drive, it will give you a chance to help others.
6. Reach out - Invite an inactive Catholic to come with you to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday.
7. Pray - Especially for people you don't like and for people who don't like you.
8. Tune out - Turn off the television and spend quality time talking with family members or friends.
9. Clean out closets - Donate gently used items to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
10. Donate - pick one mission and decide how you can help by sending money, clothing or supplies.
MORE LENTEN SUGGESTIONS
- Increased Prayer:
- Daily Mass 1-2 times a week.
- An hr. in Adoration a week.
- Go to Confession.
- Start to pray a daily Rosary.
- Pray the Liturgy of the hours.
- Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
- Stations of the Cross on Fridays.
- Watch The Passion of the Christ and then meditate on Christ’s life.
- Do an extra spiritual activity at Church
- Memorize Scripture verses.
- Check out a book on spirituality from the parish library.
- When you fast from a meal, give the money you would spend to the poor.
- Use a coin box from and put all change into it for the poor.
- Spend more time with your parents.
- Visit a nursing home.
- Start tithing.
- Forgive an old grudge.
- Share your faith with someone.
- Give someone a Catholic tract or CD.
- Exercise patience and love.
- Go out of your way to talk to someone who is shy or difficult.
- Offer to watch a mother’s child(ren).
- Drive with love.
- Write a letter to a relative you haven’t seen in a while.
- Begin each morning with the prayer: "Lord, I offer you this day, and all that I think, and do, and say."
- Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
- Make the Stations of the Cross at home or in a parish celebration.
- Pray the Seven Penitential Psalms (Psalm 6, 31, 50, 101, 129 and 142).
- Spend some time in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
- Abstain from meat for an extra day or two each week.
- Listen to spiritual music or a spiritual speaker.
- Keep a Lenten journal with your spiritual insights, special intentions, people you want to pray for, hurts and disappointments that you want to offer up, and progress reports on your Lenten resolutions.
The following are good things we can fast from and have back at a later time:
- Fast on bread and water on Fridays.
- Fast from TV.
- Fast from snacking or candy.
- Fast from the radio in your car.
- Fast from Facebook, Twitter, and/or the internet. (NOTE: if you do decide to fast from Facebook, here are some free profile pictures you can use to show others what you are doing)
- Fast from caffeine.
- Do not use seasoning on your food.
- Fast from alcohol.
Pray together. Even if it's just an Our Father or Hail Mary, it unites the family.
Let each family member mention one person or problem that they would like to pray for in a special way at dinnertime.
Take the kids grocery shopping for the poor. Let them help you bring the food to your parish pantry or the local food bank.
Let children light a candle at church for people throughout the world who are sick or hungry.
Sample Lenten food favorites,such as hot cross buns. If you're really adventurous,check the Internet for recipes and make your own!
Check your diocesan newspaperfor the location of a Passion play.Take family members and friends.
Download a Lenten Family Guide
MORE LENT QUESTIONS
Here is a list of links about lent.
Pope's Lenten message for 2013.
Pope Benedict's Lent 2012 message.
Pope Benedict's Lent 2011 message.
Pope Benedict's Lent 2010 message.
Pope Benedict's Lent 2009 message.
Prayers, History, Lenten Suggestions:
EWTN.com - Lenten reflections, questions, and more.
AmericanCatholic.org - Lent 2011 pages
Creighton University - Lenten prayers.
Catholic Encyclopedia - entry on Lent
Catholic Culture - Personal Lenten program.
Our Sunday Visitor - Lenten resources.
Catholic Online - Lenten resources.
Byzantine Catholic - Lenten resources for Byzantine Catholics.
DomesticChurch.com - exploring Lent.
Catholic Pages - Lenten links.
National Catholic Register - Fasting for lent.
Aquinas and More Catholic Goods - Lent store.
Catholic New Media on Lent: