Lent 2012 at St. Paul’s

Please see our Lent 2012 letter and list of services/Masses here:
Lent 2012 at St. Paul’s

Lent, from the Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime – the time of lengthening days, is a period of forty days of fasting, prayer, and penitence before Easter. There is biblical support for doing penance, but the season of Lent, like all Catholic liturgical seasons, developed over time. The observance of Lent is related to the celebration of Easter. In the first three centuries of the Christian era, most Christians prepared for Easter by fasting and praying for three days. In some places this was extended to the entire week before Easter (now known as “Holy Week”). There is evidence that inRome, the preparation period was three weeks. In its early three-week form, Lent was the period of intense spiritual and liturgical preparation for catechumens before they were baptized at Easter. Many members of the community imitated this period of preparation with the catechumens.By the fourth century (when Christianity was legalized) Lent had developed into its current length of forty days, the length of the fast and temptation of Jesus in the desert (cf. Luke 4:1-13). Recently, research has suggested that the development of Lent was also influenced by the forty-day period of fasting practiced by many in the early Church (especially monks). This fast, beginning right after Epiphany (January 6th) stressed prayer and penance. Once most people were Christian and baptized as infants, Lent lost the connection to the preparation of catechumens and the themes of repentance and fasting became dominant.

The First Day of Lent: in the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (In Eastern Rite Catholic churches, Lent begins two days earlier, on Clean Monday.) Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter. (See How Is the Date of Ash Wednesday Calculated? for more details.) Since Easter falls on a different date each year (see How Is the Date of Easter Calculated?), Ash Wednesday does, too. To find the date of Ash Wednesday in this and future years, see When Is Ash Wednesday? While Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

The Distribution of Ashes: During Mass, the ashes which give Ash Wednesday its name are distributed. The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday; many churches ask their parishioners to return any palms that they took home so that they can be burned.

After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person’s forehead, says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (or a variation on those words).

A Day of Repentance: The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.

Fasting and Abstinence Are Required: The Church emphasizes the penitential nature of Ash Wednesday by calling us to fast and abstain from meat. Catholics who are over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to fast, which means that they can eat only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in between. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday. (For more details, see What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church? and Lenten Recipes.)

Taking Stock of Our Spiritual Life: This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however; it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives. As Lent begins, we should set out specific spiritual goals we would like to reach before Easter and decide how we will pursue them—for instance, by going to daily Mass when we can and receiving the Sacrament of Confession more often.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Elizabeth Walsh

    Sun 05th Feb 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I was pleased to find this program.

    Reply

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