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Prepare to Prepare: Lent By the Book

BY Jim Cosgrove

February 15-21, 2004 Issue | Posted 2/15/04 at 12:00 PM

 

Regulations for Fast and Abstinence:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fast and abstinence from meat. Fast binds all over the age of 18 and under the age of 59. On days of fast, one full meal is allowed. Two other meals sufficient to maintain strength may be taken according to each one's needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating in between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.

The following is the section on Lent in the Vatican Directory on Popular Piety:

Lent precedes and prepares for Easter. It is a time to hear the Word of God, to convert, to prepare for and remember Baptism, to be reconciled with God and one's neigh-bour, and of more frequent recourse to the “arms of Christian penance”: prayer, fasting and good works (cf. Mattew 6, 1-6. 16-18).

Popular piety does not easily perceive the mystical aspect of Lent and does not emphasize any of its great themes or values, such a relationship between “the sacrament of 40 days” and “the sacraments of Christian initiation”, nor the mystery of the “exodus” which is always present in the lenten journey. Popular piety concentrates on the mysteries of Christ's humanity, and during Lent the faithful pay close attention to the Passion and Death of Our Lord.

In the Roman Rite, the beginning of the 40 days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The use of ashes is a survival from an ancient rite according to which converted sinners submitted themselves to canonical penance. The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent. The faithful who come to receive ashes should be assisted in perceiving the implicit internal significance of this act, which disposes them towards conversion and renewed Easter commitment.

Notwithstanding the secularisation of contemporary society, the Christian faithful, during Lent, are clearly conscious of the need to turn the mind towards those realities which really count, which require Gospel commitment and integrity of life which, through self denial of those things which are superfluous, are translated into good works and solidarity with the poor and needy.

Those of the faithful who infrequently attend the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist should be aware of the long ecclesial tradition associating the precept of confessing grave sins and receive Holy Communion at least once during the lenten season, or preferably during Eastertide.

The existing divergence between the liturgical idea of Lent and the outlook of popular piety need not prevent an effective interaction between Liturgy and popular piety during the 40 days of Lent.

An example of such interaction is to be seen in fact that popular piety often encourages particular observances on certain days, or special devotional exercises, or apostolic or charitable works which are foreseen and recommended by the lenten Liturgy. The practice of fasting, characteristic of the Lenten season since antiquity, is an “exercise” which frees the faithful from earthly concerns so as to discover the life that comes from above: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.