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Ash Wednesday marks beginning of 40-day Lenten Season

Feb 28, 2017 | [post_view] Views

Ash Wednesday 2017
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The annual Lenten season is a fitting time to climb the holy mountain of Easter. The Lenten season has a double character, namely to prepare both catechumens and faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery. Every year Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and this year it falls on Wednesday March 1. Lent finishes on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday and so this year the end of Lent falls on Saturday April 16.

Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice includes the imposition of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he speaks the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Alternatively, the priest may speak the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It is not required that a person wears the ashes for the rest of the day. However, many people keep the ashes as a reminder until the evening. The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.

There are a few basic tasks that traditionally have been associated with Lent. Many of these have a long history. These are fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Let’s look at each of these tasks individually.

Fasting: The Rite of the Catholic Church requires its members age 18 to 59 to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless a physical condition prevents it. This means only one full meal is permitted in a fast day. The Fridays of Lent are days of required abstinence, meaning meat, and soups or gravies made of meat, are not permitted. Abstinence is required from age 14 (CIC 1252). Some people choose to give up sins (gossip, drunkenness, etc.) for Lent. In this way, Lent represents a spiritual training time to overcome evil. Pope St. Leo, for example, emphasized that fasting from wrath is required along with food. By giving these up, the person fasting learns to control a particular part of his or her life, which leads to greater self-discipline even when Lent is over. As such in Lent we are able to learn, examine, and get under control our material excesses. Whatever you decide to fast from, remember: “Lent is more than a diet.” Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, all fasting should be done for God’s glory and spiritual growth.
Prayer: Lent is a perfect time to develop or strengthen a discipline of regular prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours, an ancient Christian practice of praying throughout the day, is a good place to start. A good goal for Lent would be to read Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day. If you already do that, perhaps you could add noon or night prayer. Contemplative prayer, based around the idea of silence or listening for God, is also well suited to Lent. Daily mass would be very rewarding.

Almsgiving (Charity): While Lent is about giving something up (i.e. fasting); it is also about putting something positive in its place. The best way to remove vice is to cultivate virtue. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor and doing acts of charity and mercy. While as Christians this is a year round calling, Lent is a good time to examine ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them. Giving alms can be done in more ways than just giving out money to people on the street. It can be done by helping your family, friends, and neighbors out of tight situations or being more generous to hired help.

Lastly, please be guided by Pope Francis’ message for Lent 2017: “Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in His word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.”

By: Fr. Froilan R. A. Briones, SSS

Sources: Ordo 2017, Catholic.org and Churchyear.net

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