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Grow closer to the Lord this Lent
Each Lent is an opportunity – an opportunity to reflect, pray, and become detached from the things of the world.
This is why Fr. Joseph has prepared a series of Lenten meditations to guide us during this solemn season. If you sign up today, we’ll send weekly messages to your inbox beginning on Ash Wednesday and then on each Sunday of Lent and Easter Sunday. In addition, we’ll send you an eBook with these same meditations.
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Watch This Week's Lenten Reflection Video
During the weeks of Lent, this brief video meditation will help to guide us on our journey toward Easter.
What began as a shorter time of preparing catechumens for baptism at the Easter Vigil, expanded over the centuries to 40 days of penitence, excluding Sundays. Lent began on Ash Wednesday and ended when the Easter Vigil began. Today the Season of Lent is a little less than 40 days, the Church having designated the three days from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday to the Vespers (Evening Prayer) of Easter Sunday as a Sacred Triduum (3 days), celebrating the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
While the development of the Lenten days was various throughout the Church, it may have been suggested by Christ laying in death for 40 hours, or by his 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert (a number itself reminiscent of Israel’s 40 years in the desert for disbelieving God). Regarding the connection to Christ’s own life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us,
“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning” [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC 540)
Since Lent is a time of penitence it is usual to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, both to appeal for the grace of personal conversion, and to strengthen our will to be able to cooperate with that grace. The two go together, since without God we can do nothing (John 15:5).
The best sacrifice we can make is to give up sinning. The liturgies of the first days of Lent make this point of the vanity of prayer and penitence without moral conversion. For the Catholic, daily examinations of conscience, more frequent Confession, as well as more frequent Mass and Holy Communion, to the extent possible during the pandemic, are especially good ways to prepare for Easter. It would also be good to read Sacred Scripture, pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Holy Rosary, daily if possible, mediating on the texts or prayers.
It is also usual to make some material sacrifice, one that calls for will-power and self-denial, whether television or social media, foods or treats we particularly like, recreations and other pleasures that we crave in excess, and which keep us from prayer and good works. The extra time can then be spent to pray and to serve, whether to volunteer at one’s parish, or a local charity, such as a ministry to the poor or a crisis pregnancy clinic.
St. Catherine of Genoa said, “Lenten fasts make me feel better, stronger, and more active than ever.” Lent should help us to be more active, in Charity — in love of God, and our neighbor. That is the best preparation for the celebration of the greatest act of Love in history.
“Lent is a season of intense prayer, fasting, and concern for those in need. It offers all Christians an opportunity to prepare for Easter by serious discernment about their lives, with particular attention to the word of God which enlightens the daily journey of all who believe.” - St. John Paul II
While Lent is not mentioned, per se, Jesus’ 40 days of preparation in the Judean desert for His public ministry gives the Church a strong biblical basis for her Lenten practices. Our Lord fasted and prayed during those weeks, as well as faced, and overcame, the temptations of the Evil One. We are called during Lent to imitate His resolve.
Mother Angelica put it this way,
“When you do penance for Lent, you imitate Jesus, and secondly you strengthen your will so when something sinful comes your way, you can say no. See, there’s a two-fold advantage to doing penance. Real penance, not giving up candy for goodness sakes. . . . If you gave something up that costs you, not money, but something in here, then by the end of Lent you’re stronger. Your will is stronger to say no to more important things.”
Mother Angelica Live, March 7, 2000
Since repentance is necessary for salvation, so are the acts which manifest repentance (Luke 13:1-9; Acts 26:28). Throughout the year, the Church calls the faithful to do penance, therefore, establishing norms of fast and abstinence to aid us.
Every Friday is a day of penitence, an acknowledgement of our sins and of the price of our salvation. It is a little Good Friday preparing us each week for Sundays, a little Easter. Unless it is a Solemnity (e.g. the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Friday, March 19, 2021), Latin Rite Catholics are to abstain from meat. In the United States, Catholics are permitted to substitute a different penance on Fridays outside Lent. During Lent, however, this permission is withdrawn.
To the Friday Abstinence is added the following provisions, as described by the United States Bishops’ Conference:
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iurisChurch.
“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” – St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
In the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord explains three special ways to orient our hearts to God, and these principles are especially helpful as we journey through Lent. Traditionally called the three pillars of Lent, they include almsgiving (cf. Matthew 6:1-4), prayer (cf. Matthew 6:5-15), and fasting (cf. Matthew 6:16-18).
Are you allowed to eat meat on Fridays?
During Lent, the faithful cannot eat meat on Fridays (excluding solemnities).
"The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent" (Code of Canon Law 1250).
In the United States, however, the faithful may undertake another form of penance on non-Lenten Fridays.
The General Law of the Church provides that abstinence from meat is required on all Fridays of the year in honor of Our Lord's Passion. On Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, fasting is also required. Regarding the norms for Lent, “[t]heir substantial observance binds gravely.” (Paul VI, Poenitemini, II.1)
By faculty given by the Pope, the U.S. Bishops removed the obligation “under pain of sin” that existed up to that time with regard to Friday abstinence, permitting the substitution of other penances on Fridays outside Lent. For Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, however, the general norm of the Church was untouched. Thus, to disregard or treat lightly of the Lenten obligation of fasting and abstinence would be gravely sinful, whereas, simply missing it on one day by itself would not necessarily be sinful. Outside of Lent, not abstaining from meat on Fridays would likely not be sinful in itself, nor the failure to substitute another penance, in itself.
Moral guilt, however, is also determined by our intention and circumstances. Why do we not do penance? Why do we not observe the norms of the Church? There can be excusing circumstances — particular situations where obligations of charity (not offending a host), the lack of other foods, sickness, or having to do physical labor) excuse us from the obligation. On the other hand, we can also have a bad intention, such as a disregard for Christ’s command to do penance (Luke 3:9), or for the authority of the Church (Mt. 16:19, 18:18). These would be matters to bring to the confessional.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 538-540) teaches,
The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him “until an opportune time.”
The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel's vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil's conqueror: he "binds the strong man" to take back his plunder. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father.
Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.
“May Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, lead us to ever deeper knowledge of the dead and Risen Christ, help us in the spiritual combat against sin, and sustain us as we pray with conviction: ‘Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster’—‘Convert us to you, O God, our salvation.’” - Pope Benedict XVI
The Gospel of Matthew gives an account of Jesus' temptation.
Mt. 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
First, when Jesus was extraordinarily hungry after His 40-day fast, Satan asked Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. Second, Satan asked Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple since the angels would protect Him. The final temptation was when Satan showed all of the kingdoms of the world to Jesus, saying that he would give them all to Jesus—if Jesus would worship him.
Interestingly, Satan used Scripture in a skewed way to try to convince Jesus. In return, the Word-made-flesh used Scripture in the proper context to counter the Devil.
How did Jesus overcome temptation?
When He was tempted by Satan, Jesus had prayed diligently and had fasted for 40 days. This is a great example to all the faithful: we can resist temptation much better when we fast and pray.
Where is the desert where Jesus was tempted?
Jesus was tempted in the Judaean Desert, the area to the east of Jerusalem, and the Judean Mountains on which the city sits, down to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.
The day before Ash Wednesday is sometimes called “Shrove Tuesday” because this is when people would go to Confession to be “shriven,” which means to be absolved from their sins.
More frequently, we call this day Mardi Gras (or “Fat Tuesday” in English). Since Lent is a penitential time, many people will feast on the eve of the fast. Also, traditionally people would not use fats in their house during Lent, meaning they would need to use up their fats before entering Lent.
Speaking of the Church’s celebration of this day, Pope Benedict XVI said,
The Ash Wednesday liturgy indicates the fundamental dimension of Lent in the conversion of the heart to God. This is the evocative message contained in the traditional Rite of Ashes….
It is a rite with a double meaning: the first is related to interior change, to conversion and penance, while the second recalls the precarious human condition, as it is easy to understand from the two different formulas that accompany the gesture.
“Holiness is not for wimps and the cross is not negotiable, sweetheart, it’s a requirement.” - Mother Angelica
Ash Wednesday is not mentioned in the Bible. However, the use of ashes as a religious sign is well-founded in Scripture. Ashes were used in Judaism as a sign of mourning (Esther 4:3), and of repentance (Jonah 3:6, Job 42:6). In this it is a natural sign of the impermanence of human life, and the turning from sin back to God.
Where do ashes come from for Ash Wednesday?
The ashes are made from the palms that were used on Palm Sunday the previous year, and usually brought by parishioners to the parish for this purpose.
How long are you supposed to keep ashes on your forehead?
That decision is up to the individual, but it can be a strong witness to wear the ashes in public — though this should be done without any vain intention.
The practice of receiving ashes on the head or forehead on Ash Wednesday, while the priest or minister says, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” or similar, is not found exclusively in the Catholic Church. Some non-Catholic Churches in the West celebrate it (e.g. Anglican/Episcopalian). However, the practice is foreign to the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, who generally begin Lent with other practices recalling the need for repentance and forgiveness.
Since it is not a sacrament, the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is open to any person regardless of their faith. It should be done respecting Catholic practice and intention, however. It is thus quite common to see non-Catholics participate in this rite.
On Ash Wednesday in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI taught,
And we can understand that the 40 days in preparation for Easter are a favorable time and a time of grace precisely from the appeal that the austere rite of the imposition of ashes addresses to us and which is expressed in the Liturgy in two formulas: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel"; "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return."
In the same address, he said,
With the imposition of ashes we renew our commitment to following Jesus, to letting ourselves be transformed by his Paschal Mystery, to overcoming evil and to doing good, in order to make our former self, linked to sin die and to give birth to our "new nature," transformed by God's grace.
Videos About Lent
Violet or purple is used during Advent and Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice, and preparation. At the midpoint of both of these seasons—Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent)—rose vestments are traditionally worn as a sign of joy: we rejoice at the midpoint because we are half-way through the preparation and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas or Easter.
The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross are popular devotions during Lent. Both of these devotions remind us of Our Lord’s Passion and death.
Why are Sundays not counted in Lent?
Each Sunday of the year is like a little Easter, filled with the joy of the Resurrection. In the same way, every Friday of the year is penitential because it reminds us of Good Friday.