History of the Season – The season of Lent gradually developed until the fourth century when it became the 40-day season that we still mark each year. The number 40 calls to mind Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert and the 40 years that Moses and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Early on, Lent was an intense period of preparation for the sacraments of initiation into the church: baptism, first Communion, and confirmation. Over the centuries, that emphasis waned until the Second Vatican Council re-emphasized it in the 1960s. Now, many Catholics use Lent as a time for some soul-searching and introspection, as well as a time to turn back to God in areas in which they may have strayed.

The Mathematics of Lent – Ash Wednesday, the day that Lent begins, is determined by counting backward from the date of Easter Sunday. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following March 21, the spring equinox. The first Sunday of Lent is six Sundays before Easter, and Ash Wednesday is in the previous week. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but the six Sundays are not counted as part of Lent, so the season is considered 40 days long. It’s a bit of complicated dating, but in general, think of Lent as the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Ash Wednesday – Many people flock to Ash Wednesday services. Why? Perhaps it’s because anyone can receive ashes on their foreheads, no questions asked. Babies brought forward by their parents, preschoolers who haven’t made their first Communion, adults who for various reasons don’t typically receive Eucharist, someone who hasn’t darkened the door of a church for decades, and even those who aren’t Catholic are all welcome to be marked by the sign of the cross with ashes on their foreheads. The ashes come from palm leaves burned from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. Ashes are distributed during a Mass, in a communion service presided over by a lay or ordained person, or at a simpler prayer service. Most churches offer services several times throughout the day to accommodate the crowds. There are many references in Scripture to people clothing themselves with sackcloth and ashes as a symbol of repentance (King David, Job, the people of Nineveh, etc.). Eventually, being marked by the Sign of the Cross on one’s forehead with ashes took on the same meaning. Ashes also call to mind our mortality. Although there are several phrases the ministers might pray when marking us with ashes, the most traditional is, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is a reference to the biblical story of God creating human beings out of the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:4-7), and it serves as a stark reminder of mortality.

Marks of the Season

▶ The Stations of the Cross: a prayer service that recalls Jesus’ Passion and death. Parishes often offer Stations one or more times during Lent.

▶ Palm Sunday: the Sunday before Easter. Palm branches are given out at Mass, and we are invited to relive Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the crowds welcomed him by waving palms and laying them down along his path. We then hear the entire reading of his Last Supper, Passion, and death.

▶ Purple: the liturgical color of the season, calling to mind a sense of penitence.

▶ A sense of spareness and greater solemnity in the church environment (more of the music during Mass might be in Latin).

▶ The absence of “Alleluia.” This word is not spoken or sung during Lent so that when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter it will be all the more joyful.

Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving – All Catholics in good health between the ages of 18-64 are called to fast from food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as an aid to prayer. In this context, fasting means eating only one main meal plus two smaller meals not equal to the main meal. Hunger pangs can remind us of our hunger for God and our need for God’s nourishment. They can also be a call to solidarity with those who are forced to fast because of poverty and injustice. There is a long tradition of Catholics “giving something up” throughout Lent. Giving up desserts, alcohol, or coffee for 40 days only to binge on them after Easter misses the point. Instead, giving something up should lead us to a permanent change of behavior. It should lead away from sin and toward a greater fullness of life.Page 9 FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME JANUARY 28, 2024

The Season of Lent-Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving continued.. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that the fast that pleases God is “to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free… to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin” (Isa. 58:6-7). Consider a broader context this Lent, rather than just a temporary self-improvement program. We are urged to dedicate more intentional time to prayer during Lent. For many people, it is an opportunity to recommit to a prayer discipline that has suffered, and for others, it is an invitation to start one anew. There are many Lenten day-by-day prayer booklets available, as well as a wealth of resources online for the Lenten season. Almsgiving is the ancient tradition of caring for the poor. Lent can be an opportunity to be more mindful of offering time, talent, or treasure in service to the poor and marginalized of our society. Some people choose to save money from something they fast from and donate the savings to a charity.

Abstaining from Meat = Sometimes considered under the category of fasting, abstaining from meat (other than seafood) on Fridays during Lent has long been a Catholic tradition. Like fasting, it is meant to link us to the poor who often can’t afford meat in their typical diets. Rather than being a reason to feast on lobster, abstaining from meat should be an invitation to be grateful for a simple, yet nutritious meal, while recognizing that millions of people don’t even have access to regular meals.

Copyright © 2018 Ann Naffziger. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Published by The Pastoral Center / PastoralCenter.com. All rights reserved

Lenten Prayers

Dear Jesus Christ, I come to you in prayer to ask for your help in strengthening my faith and relationship during this Lenten season. In my daily life, may I imitate your character more and show greater respect and concern for my neighbors and the marginalized. Please give me the strength and courage to do these things. Amen.

Almighty and Everlasting God, You have given the human race Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility. He fulfilled Your Will by becoming Man and giving His life on the Cross.
Help us to bear witness to You by following His example of suffering and make us worthy to share in His Resurrection. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son. Amen

Prayer of Giving

Loving and gracious God, I have given gold, But there is only so much gold. I have given blood, But I have only so much blood to give. I have given my time, But days have only so many hours. I have given my strength, But even that has its limits. So I give my love. Because love is gold, and love is blood. And love is time, and love is strength. But love is also so much more. Because love is God. And God is love. And only you, God, have no limits. Amen

Prayer for the Poor

God of Justice, open our eyes to see you in the face of the poor. Open our ears to hear you in the cries of the exploited. Open our mouths to defend you in the public squares as well as in private deeds. Remind us that what we do to the least ones, we do to you. Amen

We Hunger and Thirst for Holiness

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation: you make us hunger and thirst for holiness. Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation: you call us to true fasting: to set free the oppressed, to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless and to clothethe naked.

—A prayer from Catholic Relief Services


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