By Maria Covarrubias
This year our Lenten journey begins on February 18th with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. Lent is a liturgical time of preparation for the Paschal or Easter Triduum, which begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, continuing with the Good Friday service and Holy Saturday, and concluding with vespers (evening prayer) on the Easter Vigil.
The Triduum marks the most significant events of Holy Week, ending with Easter Sunday, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Lent is a very important liturgical time for us as Catholics. During Lent, the Word of God and the external symbols like ashes and the color purple tell us that we are in a journey of conversion. On Ash Wednesday, we receive ashes on our forehead as a visible sign of our affiliation with Christ and as a symbol of death and repentance. During Lent, we are called to take a deep look at our ourselves, our lives and to find those areas in need of change so that we can be more Christ like. Lent invites us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving with the purpose of increasing our love and fidelity to God and to others, in generous solidarity with the poor and those in need.
This Lent, I invite you to study and reflect on the four cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance (moderation, self-control). These virtues are the foundation of a vigilant Christian. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “a virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of him or herself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory (senses) and spiritual powers; he/she pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God” (CCC no. 1,803).
During Lent, most of us give up something as a sign of fasting, like candy, sodas or chocolate. In addition, I recommend practicing the four cardinal virtues, especially the one in which we need to grow the most, and make it a habit. The three pillars of the Lenten practice are prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving.
Prayer is essential during Lent. This means intentionally reading and reflecting on the Word of God; do a retreat and participate in the Stations of Cross in your parish community, gather 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 prevent 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 – we are called to charity (love). 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).
For reflection: How does Lent bring me hope? What virtue would I want to live more purposely this lent?
If you would like more information on the virtues go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church Article 7, nos. 1803-2,015).
Maria Covarrubias is Director of the Office of Catechetical Ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino.