Skip to comments.All About Lent
Posted on 02/28/2003 9:18:20 PM PST by Salvation
|ALL ABOUT LENT|
|Q: What is Lent?
A: Lent is the forty day period before Easter, excluding Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). [This traditional ennumeration does not precisely coincide with the calendar according to the liturgical reform. In order to give special prominence to the Sacred Triduum (Mass of the Lord's Supper, Good Friday, Easter Vigil) the current calendar counts Lent as only from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, up to the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Even so, Lenten practices are properly maintained up to the Easter Vigil, excluding Sundays, as before.]
Q: Why are Sundays excluded from the reckoning of the forty days?
A: Because Sunday is the day on which Christ arose, making it an inappropriate day to fast and mourn our sins. On Sunday we must celebrate Christ's resurrection for our salvation. It is Friday on which we commemorate his death for our sins. The Sundays of the year are days of celebration and the Fridays of the year are days of penance.
Q: Why are the forty days called Lent?
A: They are called Lent because that is the Old English word for spring, the season of the year during which they fall. This is something unique to English. In almost all other languages its name is a derivative of the Latin term <Quadragesima>, or "the forty days."
Q: Why is Lent forty days long?
A: Because forty days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible. Thus Moses stayed on the Mountain of God forty days (Exodus 24:18 and 34:28), the spies were in the land for forty days (Numbers 13:25), Elijah traveled forty days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kings 19:8), Nineveh was given forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4), and most importantly, prior to undertaking his ministry, Jesus spent forty days in wilderness praying and fasting (Matthew 4:2).
Since Lent if a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting for Christians to imitate their Lord with a forty day period. Christ used a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for his ministry, which culminated in his death and resurrection, and thus it is fitting for Christians to imitate him with a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of his ministry's climax, Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (the day of the resurrection).
Thus the <Catechism of the Catholic Church> states:
"'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).
Q: When does Lent begin?
A: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is the day on which they faithful have their foreheads signed with ashes in the form of a Cross (see piece on Ash Wednesday). It is also a day of fast and abstinence.
Q: What is a day of fast and abstinence?
A: Under current canon law in the Western Rite of the Church, a day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast. In this country, one may eat a single, normal meal and have two snacks, so long as these snacks do not add up to a second meal. Children are not required to fast, but their parents must ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting. Those with medical conditions requiring a greater or more regular food intake can easily be dispensed from the requirement of fasting by their pastor.
A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years or older are required to abstain from eating meat (under the current discipline in America, fish, eggs, milk products, and condiments or foods made using animal fat are permitted in the Western Rite of the Church, though not in the Eastern Rites.) Again, persons with special dietary needs can easily be dispensed by their pastor.
Q: Is there a biblical basis for abstaining from meat as a sign of repentance?
A: Yes. The book of Daniel states:
"In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . 'I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.'" (Daniel 10:1-3)
Q: Isn't abstaining from meat one of the "doctrines of demons" Paul warned about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5?
A: Short answer: Not unless Daniel was practicing a doctrine of demons.
Long answer: When Paul warned of those who "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods" he has in mind people with the Manichean belief that sex is wrong and certain foods, like meat, are intrinsically immoral. (Thus the spiritual ideal for many modern New Agers is a celibate vegetarian, as in the Eastern religions.)
We know that Paul has in mind those who teach sex and certain foods are intrinsically immoral because he tells us that these are "foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4:3b-5).
Sex and all kinds of food are <good> things (which is why the Catholic Church has marriage for a sacrament and heartily recommends the practice eating to its members), and this is precisely why it is fitting for them to be given up as part of a spiritual discipline. Thus Daniel gave up meat (as well as wine, another symbol of rejoicing) and Paul endorses the practice of temporary celibacy to engage in a special spiritual discipline of increased prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5). By giving up good things and denying them to ourselves we encourage an attitude of humility, free ourselves from dependence on them, cultivate the spiritual discipline of being willing to make personal sacrifices, and remind ourselves of the importance of spiritual goods over earthly goods.
In fact, if there was an important enough purpose, Paul recommended permanently giving up marriage and meat. Thus he himself was celibate (1 Corinthians 7:8), he recommended the same for ministers (2 Timothy 2:3-4), and he recommended it for the unmarried so they can devote themselves more fully to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34) unless doing so would subject them to great temptations (1 Corinthians 7:9). Similarly, he recommended giving up meat permanently if it would prevent others from sinning (1 Corinthians 8:13).
Thus Paul certainly had nothing against celibacy or giving up meateven on a permanent basisso long as one wasn't saying that these things are intrinsically evil, which is what he was condemning the "doctrines of demons" passage.
Since the Catholic Church only requires abstinence from meat on a temporary basis, it clearly does not regard meat is immoral. Instead, it regards it as the giving up of a good thing (which in less economically developed regionsincluding the whole world until very recentlywas expensive and thus eaten at festive occasions, making it a sign of rejoicing) to attain a spiritual goal.
Q: On what basis does the Church have the authority to establish days of fast and abstinence?
A: On the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus told the leaders of his Church, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). The language of binding and loosing (in part) was a rabinnic way of referring to the ability to establish binding <halakah> or rules of conduct for the faith community. It is thus especially appropriate that the references to binding and loosing occur in Matthew, the "Jewish Gospel." Thus the <Jewish Encyclopedia >states:
"BINDING AND LOOSING (Hebrew, <asar ve-hittir)> . . . Rabinnical term for 'forbidding and permitting.' . . . "The power of binding and loosing as always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees, says Josephus (<Wars of the Jews >1:5:2), 'became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind.' . . . The various schools had the power 'to bind and to loose'; that is, to forbid and to permit (<Talmud: Chagigah> 3b); and they could also bind any day by declaring it a fast-day ( . . . <Talmud: Ta'anit> 12a . . . ). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age of the Sanhedrin, received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (<Sifra, Emor, >9; <Talmud: Makkot >23b).
"In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt. 16:19, 18:18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who 'bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers'; that is 'loose them,' as they have the power to do (Matt. 23:2-4). In the same sense the second epistle of Clement to James II ('Clementine Homilies,' Introduction [A.D. 221]), Peter is represented as having appointed Clement as his successor, saying: 'I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing so that, with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens; for he shall bind what ought to be bound and loose what ought to be loosed as knowing the rule of the Church.'" (<Jewish Encyclopedia> 3:215).
Thus Jesus invested the leaders of this Church with the power of making <halakah> for the Christian community. This includes the setting of fast days (like Ash Wednesday).
To approach the issue from another angle, every family has the authority to establish particular family devotions for its members. Thus if the parents decide that the family will engage in a particular devotion at a particular time (say, Bible reading after supper), it is a sin for the children to disobey and skip the devotion for no good reason. In the same way, the Church as the family of God has the authority to establish its own family devotion, and it is a sin for the members of the Church to disobey and skip the devotions for no good reason (though of course if the person has a good reason, the Church dispenses him immediately).
Q: In addition to Ash Wednesday, are any other days during Lent days of fast or abstinence?
A: Yes. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence. Also, Good Friday, the day on which Christ was crucified, is another day of both fast and abstinence. All days in Lent are appropriate for fasting or abstaining, but canon law does not require fasting on those days. Such fasting or abstinence is voluntary, like a freewill offering.
Q: Why are Fridays during Lent days of abstinence.
A: This is because Jesus died for our sins on Friday, making it an especially appropriate day of mourning our sins (just as Sunday, the day on which he rose for our salvation is an especially appropriate day to rejoice) by denying ourselves something we enjoy. During the rest of the year Catholics in this country are permitted to use a different act of penance on Friday in place of abstinence, though all Fridays are days of penance on which we are required to do something expressing sorrow for our sins, just as Sundays are holy days on which we are required to worship and celebrate God's great gift of salvation.
Q: Are acts of repentance appropriate on other days during Lent?
A: Yes. Thus the <Code of Canon Law> states:
"All Fridays through the year and he time of Lent are penitential days and time throughout the universal Church" (CIC 1250).
Q: Why are acts of repentance appropriate at this time of year?
A: Because it is the time leading up to the commemoration of Our Lord's death for our sins and the commemoration of his resurrection for our salvation. It is thus especially appropriate to mourn the sins for which he died. Human have an innate psychological need to mourn tragedies, and our sins are tragedies of the greatest sort. Due to our fallen nature humans also have a need to have set times in which to engage in behavior (which is why we have Sundays as a set time to rest and worship, since we would otherwise be likely to forget to devote sufficient time to rest and worship), it is appropriate to have set times of repentance. Lent is one of those set times.
Q: What are appropriate activities for ordinary days during Lent?
A: Giving up something we enjoy for Lent, doing of physical or spiritual acts of mercy for others, prayer, fasting, abstinence, going to confession, and other acts expressing repentance in general.
Q: Is the custom of giving up something for Lent mandatory?
A: No. However, it is a salutary custom, and parents or caretakers may choose to require it of their children to encourage their spiritual training, which is their prime responsibility in the raising of their children.
Q: Since Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent, does the custom of giving up something apply to them?
A: Customarily, no. However, since the giving up of something is voluntary to begin with, there is no official rule concerning this aspect of it. Nevertheless, since Sundays are days of celebration, it is appropriate to suspend the Lenten self-denial on them that, in a spiritual and non-excessive way, we may celebrate the day of Our Lord's resurrection so that that day and that event may be contrasted with the rest of the days of Lent and the rest of the events of history. This heightened contrast deepens the spiritual lessons taught by the rest of Lent.
Q: Why is giving up something for Lent such a salutary custom?
A: By denying ourselves something we enjoy, we discipline our wills so that we are not slaves to our pleasures. Just as indulging the pleasure of eating leads to physical flabbiness and, if this is great enough, an inability to perform in physically demanding situations, indulging in pleasure in general leads to spiritual flabbiness and, if this is great enough, an inability to perform in spiritual demanding situations, we when the demands of morality require us to sacrifice something pleasurable (such as sex before marriage or not within the confines of marriage) or endure hardship (such as being scorned or persecuted for the faith). By disciplining the will to refuse pleasures when they are not sinful, a habit is developed which allows the will to refuse pleasures when they are sinful. There are few better ways to keep one's priorities straight than by periodically denying ourselves things of lesser priority to show us that they are not necessary and focus our attention on what is necessary.
Q: Is the denying of pleasure an end in itself?
A: No. It is a only a means to an end. By training ourselves to resist temptations when they are not sinful, we train ourselves to reject temptations when they are sinful. We also express our sorrow over having failed to resist sinful temptations in the past.
Q: Is there such a thing as denying ourselves too many pleasures?
A: Most definitely. First, God made human life contingent on certain goods, such as food, and to refuse to enjoy enough of them has harmful consequences. For example, if we do not eat enough food it can cause physical damage or (in the extreme, even death). Just as there is a balance between eating too much food and not eating enough food, there is a balance involved in other goods.
Second, if we do not strike the right balance and deny ourselves goods God meant us to have then it can generate resentment toward God, which is a spiritual sin just as much as those of engaging in excesses of good things. Thus one can be led into sin either by excess or by defect in the enjoyment of good things.
Third, it can decrease our effectiveness in ministering to others.
Fourth, it can deprive us of the goods God gave us in order that we might praise him.
Fifth, it constitutes the sin of ingratitude by refusing to enjoy the things God wanted us
to have because he loves us. If a child refused every gift his parent gave him, it would displease the parent, and if we refuse gifts God has given us, it displeases God because he loves us and wants us to have them.
Q: Is that balance the same for all people?
A: No. For example, with the good of food, people who are by nature physically larger need more food than people who are physically smaller. Similarly, people who have higher metabolisms or who do manual labor for a living need more food than people with slower metabolisms or who have less active lifestyles. The same is true with regard to other goods than food. The St. Paul speaks of this in regard to the good of married life:
"I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Thus some are given the gift of being able to live without the good of married life in order that they may pursue greater devotion to God (1 Cor. 7:32-34) or to pursue greater ministry for others (2 Timothy 2:3-4), as with priests, monks, and nuns. God gives these people special graces to live the life which they have embraced, just as he gives special graces to the married to live the life they have embraced.
Q: Aside from Ash Wednesday, which begins Lent, what are its principal events?
A: There are a variety of saints' days which fall during Lent, and some of these change from year to year since the dates of Lent itself change based on when Easter falls. However, the Sundays during the Lenten season commemorate special events in the life of Our Lord, such as his Transfiguration and his Triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. Holy week climaxes with Holy Thursday, on which Christ celebrated the first Mass, Good Friday, on which he was Crucified, and Holy Saturdaythe last day of Lentduring which Our Lord lay in the Tomb before his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the first day after Lent.
Copyright (c) 1996 by James Akin. All Rights Reserved
What is Lent?
These days, a Catholic may be able to tell your age by the way you explain Lent. Hello, I'm Father Greg Friedman. American Catholic.org presents this series of "Sunday Soundbites" for the season of Lent.
Older Catholics, who remember Lent in the 1930s, 40s or 50sor perhaps even earliermay first think of this season as a time of penance. Lent was when you gave up somethinglike food or going to the movies in order to do penance for sin.
Since the Church has restored the rite of initiating adults into the Christian faith, Lent has taken on a different meaningone that goes back to the fourth and fifth centuries. At that time, the 40 days before Easter were the final stage of preparation for those about to be baptized. The rest of the Church prayed and fasted in solidarity with them.
Today, with the presence in most Catholic parishes of a group of adults visibly making ready to receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, Lent has regained that "baptismal" emphasis. We still can decide on a Lenten observancefasting, prayer, almsgivingbut we do it with the purpose of recalling our Baptism, of deepening our commitment to Christ. And we do it in solidarity with those preparing to be baptized or received into the Church.
The readings for each Sunday in Lent have been chosen by the Church to relate to the journey of faith each of us undertakes, to our basic baptismal call to be part of Christ. Some of the selections, from the Gospel of John, for example, have been used for centuries to recall the meaning of Baptism. For people about to be baptized, these Scripture passages take on a powerful meaning indeed. The meditations you will find here on our Web site will call attention to the various "baptismal connections" for each Sunday.
Those who are already baptized, are still on a journey. Our faith must be renewed, our baptismal promises affirmed, each time we gather with the Church for the Eucharist, where we hear God's Word and come to the table to be transformed into the Body of Christ. We bring to that experience our questions, our sinfulness, our hunger and thirst, our need to grow, our longing for God.
As you reflect with me through these "Sunday Soundbites," let's pray for each other as we make our Lenten journey of faith. I'm Father Greg Friedman for AmericanCatholic.org.
Catholic Discussion Ping!
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Someone once asked me what I was "giving up" for Lent. Is personal sacrifice during Lent a requirement for Christians, or just Catholics?
I understand there is a connection between Mardi Gras, Carnival (in Brazil), Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
Talk about going from one extreme to the other.
Fr. William Saunders
The pretzel has its origins as an official food of Lent. However, much of the information available is based on tradition that has been handed down through the ages. Nevertheless, the Vatican library actually has a manuscript illustrating one of the earliest pictures and descriptions of the pretzel (Manuscript Code no. 3867).
In the early Church, the Lenten abstinence and fasting laws were more strict than what the faithful practice today. Many areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory (d. 604), writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: "We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs." Second, the general rule was for a person to have one meal a day, in the evening or at three oclock in the afternoon, and smaller snacks to maintain strength. So a need arose for a very simple food which would fulfill the abstinence and fasting laws.
According to pretzel maker Snyders of Hanover, a young monk in the early 600s in Italy was preparing a special Lenten bread of water, flour and salt. To remind his brother monks that Lent was a time of prayer, he rolled the bread dough in strips and then shaped each strip in the form of crossed arms, mimicking the then popular prayer position of folding ones arms over each other on the chest. The bread was then baked as a soft bread, just like the big soft pretzels one can find today. (To be fair, some traditions date the story to even the 300s.)
Because these breads were shaped into the form of crossed arms, they were called bracellae, the Latin word for "little arms." From this word, the Germans derived the word bretzel which has since mutated to the familiar word pretzel.
Another possibility for the origins of the word pretzel is that the young monk gave these breads to children as a reward when they could recite their prayers. The Latin word pretiola means "little reward," from which pretzel could also be reasonably derived.
Apparently, this simple Lenten food became very popular. Pretzels were enjoyed by all people. They became a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity. Interestingly, they were also a common food given to the poor and hungry. Not only were pretzels easy to give to someone in need, but also they were both a substantial food to satisfy the hunger and a spiritual reminder of God knowing a persons needs and answering our prayers.
Another interesting story involving pretzels arises in the late 1500s, when the Ottoman Moslem Turks were besieging the city of Vienna, Austria. The Turks could not break the citys defenses, so they began to tunnel below ground. The monks in the basement of the monastery were baking pretzels and heard the sound of digging. They alerted the guard and saved the city.
The soft pretzels eventually evolved into hard baked pretzels. Another story is that a young apprentice baker dozed off while tending to the oven where the pretzels were baking. The oven fire began to die out, he awoke, and then stoked up the oven. In the end, he over-baked the pretzels. At first the master baker was upset, but soon discovered that the hard pretzels were also delicious. These hard pretzels were less perishable than the soft, and thereby easy to have available to give to the poor and hungry.
Here we find another "fun" tradition of our faith, just like Easter eggs or hot cross buns. Actually, a good Lenten family activity would be to make pretzels, explaining to the children their significance. The real challenge for this author is to find some justification for adding beer to the Lenten pretzel tradition.
Like you, I too grew up during the 50's and 60's, but was raised in a catholic family, attending catholic schools. We were taught that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were days of fast and abstinence. Throughout Lent, Fridays were always days of abstinence. I have never met any catholic who abstained for 40 days, unless it was by personal choice. (Ironically, the reason we were given for abstaining on Fridays was to encourage the sale of fish.)
It was also our practice to "give up" something of importance. For the kids, this challenge was usually in the form of candy. Our Easter baskets were always packed with all sorts of candy. Even then, I recall that sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had made it to the end without succumbing to temptation.
I also recall that during Lent, the statues in the church were covered. I haven't seen that practice in many years. On Good Friday, following afternoon services, the altar was stripped bare and the Holy Eucharist removed from the Tabernacle, leaving the door open. You are right, though, to point out that Lenten devotions were taken more seriously then than now.
As a convert, you will enjoy this story. A while back, one of the guests on Journey Home, was a couple who had just converted to catholicism. They spoke of the first Lent following their decision to convert. Though not yet catholics, they decided to follow a Lenten practice of either "giving up" or "taking on". After considerable discussion, they felt the most challenging thing to do would be to attend daily mass. After 40 days, they continued the practice, noting how much strength they had gained from the experience.
I feel Lent should be a time for personal sacrifice, and that we must be honest with ourselves in its selection. Daily mass is an excellent practice, as is time spent reading the bible or mediting on selected passages. More importantly, it is a time to reach out to others.
A: Giving up something we enjoy for Lent, doing of physical or spiritual acts of mercy for others, prayer, fasting, abstinence, going to confession, and other acts expressing repentance in general.
Here are some interesting suggestions, compliments of EWTN
WHAT TO GIVE UP . . .
Give up complaining. . . . . . . .focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism. . . . . . . . . become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments . . .think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry. . . . . . . . . . . . . trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement. . . . .be full of hope.
Give up bitterness. . . . . . . . . . turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred. . . . . . . . . . . . . return good for evil.
Give up negativism . . . . . . . . .be positive.
Give up anger. . . . . . . . . . . . . .be more patient.
Give up pettiness. . . . . . . . . . .become mature.
Give up gloom. . . . . . . . . . . . . .enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy. . . . . . . . . . . .pray for trust.
Give up gossiping. . . . . . . . . . .control your tongue.
Give up sin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . turn to virtue.
Give up giving up. . . . . . . . . . . hang in there!
**Q: In addition to Ash Wednesday, are any other days during Lent days of fast or abstinence?
A: Yes. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence. Also, Good Friday, the day on which Christ was crucified, is another day of both fast and abstinence. All days in Lent are appropriate for fasting or abstaining, but canon law does not require fasting on those days. Such fasting or abstinence is voluntary, like a freewill offering.**
This is an excellent choice if it is at all possible.
During Lent our church has small faith-sharing groups that concentrate on the upcoming week's first and second reading, the responsorial psalm, and the Gospel.
This "once a week joining together with people from the parish is a wonderful way to strengthen your parish through evangelization, increase volunteerism and promote stewardship also.
Thanks for this link. Day by day reflections.....................
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