By Maria Covarrubias
Lent is a liturgical season beginning on Ash Wednesday that lasts 40 days. This is a special time of preparation for Easter. During Lent the Word of God and the external symbols like ashes and the color purple tell us that we are on a journey that should cause us to take a deep look at our lives and find those areas in need of conversion. Lent invites us to pray, fast and give alms with the purpose of increasing our fidelity to God and those around us, increasing our willingness to renounce what we do not need, and bringing us into generous solidarity with the poor and those in need.
The meaning of Lent is found in the third period of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA): the period of Purification and Enlightenment. Lent is meant to be a period of purification for those who will be baptized in the Easter Vigil. During Lent the whole church takes part in this process of repentance and conversion. Lent ends on Holy Thursday afternoon when we begin the Paschal Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
On Ash Wednesday, we go to church to receive ashes on our forehead as a visible sign of our affiliation with Christ. Ashes are a symbol of death and repentance.
The three pillars of the Lenten practice are: Prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving.
Prayer is an essential part of Lent. This includes reading the Word of God and reflecting on it; making use of the traditional prayers like the Stations of Cross that most Catholic communities gather to pray each Friday during Lent.
Fasting means eating only one normal-size meal and two small meals with no snacks during Ash Wednesday and on Holy Friday. Who must observe fasting? Catholics between 18 and 59 years old except in cases of special medical conditions that prevents fasting. Abstinence means not eating meat during all the Fridays during Lent. This practice must be observed by Catholics 14 years old and older.
Almsgiving – our foundational call as Christians is to charity. During Lent, we are asked to focus intentionally on “almsgiving.” Sharing our material goods is just the beginning of real Christian giving. We are called to give of ourselves, of our time, to others in need. As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2462).
The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross allow us to accompany Jesus in his Passion and Death by meditating on 14 moments (the 14 Stations of the Cross) from the moment Jesus is condemned to death until his burial. Although not traditionally part of the Stations, the Resurrection of Jesus is sometimes included as a fifteenth station in consideration that if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too our faith (1 Cor 15, 14).
Questions for reflection: What Lenten practices are you familiar with? How and in what ways would you like to make this Lenten journey fruitful and life giving for you?
Maria Covarrubias is director of the Catechetical Ministry Office in the Diocese of San Bernardino.