What is Lent? (courtesy St. Mary’s Catholic Church, College Station, TX)
Lent is a time when the Catholic Church collectively enters into preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Lent originally developed as a forty-day retreat, preparing converts to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. Lent is
a season of conversion. Conversion is the process of turning away from sin and turning to God. Lent starts
with Ash Wednesday (this excludes Sundays, which are not part of the 40 days) and ends on Holy Thursday,
the first day of the Triduum, the three holy days before Easter.
So why aren't Sundays part of Lent?
This is because Sundays are always a day of celebration of Christ's Passion and Resurrection, so we
celebrate on these days.
Does this mean I can "cheat" on Sundays?
Since Sundays are not part of the penitential season, you do not have to practice signs of penitence on these
days. But, there is no reason you can't do them either. If you feel you are "cheating" on Sundays then it isn't
helping your time of preparation and turning to God!
Why do we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday?
Ashes are a sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. "I am nothing
but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after
our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.
Where do we get the ashes?
They come from burning the palms from last years Palm Sunday Masses.
Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, Catholics, non-Catholics, and those
preparing to come into the Catholic Church alike! All of us are called to turn away
from sin and turn closer to God!
Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of Obligation?
No. But all Catholics are strongly urged to attend, because it is the start of the Lenten season.
What are the days of fast and abstinence during Lent?
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
Catholics from age 18 to 59 eat only one full meal and two smaller meals during the day, with no snacking.
In addition, all Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence, on which all Catholics over the age of 14 eat no
Again, this is because we are called to fast by Jesus. By denying ourselves something
good, we remember what the highest good of all is - GOD. We also practice selfdiscipline
and self-mastery, which we need in order to achieve holiness. Jesus fasted in
the desert and calls us to fast as well. "When you fast, do not look somber as the
hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the
truth, they have received their reward in full." (Matt 6: 16)
Questions and Answers
Why abstain from meat?
We give up meat, which today is still a luxury in some parts of the world, as a good thing that we offer up in
order to remember that Christ is better than food.
Why is fish not considered meat?
Because it was the food of the poor who could not afford meat, yet could catch fish to
What ever happened to “giving up something” for Lent?
While we are not required to “give up something” we are required to do something penitential. Lent is a great
time to break a bad habit and give it to the Lord. These sins and vices we should not take bac k after Lent. It
is also a time to give something up that is good during this season. This is why people give up something
they enjoy. In doing so we can draw closer to God by our temporary sacrifice. We should find an appropriate
balance of giving up something and not completely cutting ourselves off of good things. We will find our need
for God if we do it correctly.
What else then IS required during Lent?
The Church asks us to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is assumed that we are already doing
these things and should merely increase them.
Got any suggestions?
First off, pray about what you are going to do for Lent. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your
spiritual practice of Lent. Then find a few things that you feel called to do. Don't do too much or too little.
Stretch yourself, but don't pick things you won't stick to.
Some ideas to increase your prayer during Lent:
• Wake up 20 minutes earlier and start your day in silent prayer or by reading the Bible.
• Come to daily Mass!
• Come to Adoration!
• Learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the official daily prayer of the Church!
• Pray the Stations of the Cross, alone or with a group!
• Go to confession!
• Join a Bible Study or a “Why Catholic?” small group!
• Check out some spiritual readings.
Some alternative ways of fasting during Lent — give these up for one day a week or for all of Lent:
• Food Fasts: Snacking in-between meals / Candy / Eating out / Caffeine
• Flavor Fast: add no salt or other seasoning to any of your foods.
• Media Fasts: TV / radio / internet / “texting”
• Make a permanent “fast” from bad habits: Gossip / Lying / Sarcasm / Laziness / Complaining
Ten Frquently Asked Questions Regarding Lent
!. Are parishes suppose to cover statues in their church during Lent?
Statues may be veiled begining on Passion Sunday (the Sunday before Palm Sunday) and remain so through Holy Saturday. Especially in a church with a great deal of devotional areas and images, this can be a method of focusing worshippers on the central mystery of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection.
2. Why is there no holy water at the entrance of the church during Lent?
Actually, holy water is to remain in the entry to churches until the commencement of the Triduum on Holy Thursday. Only then it is to be removed and replaced after the Triduum. This highlights the relationship between holy water-itself symbolic of sacramental grace given to us by God-and the Paschal Mystery, celebrated in a preeminent way in the triduum.
3. What is "fasting" specifically?
Fasting is the consuming of no more than one meal per day, along with two smaller repasts, which when combined, are not larger than the main meal.
4. Who is to fast during Lent?
Adult Catholics from the age of 18 to 59 are required to fast, unless of course prohibited by medical or physical reasons. (Canon 1252).
5. In Lent, who has to abstain from meat?
Catholics from age 15 and up are to abstain from meat on days of abstinence. (Canon 1252).
6. When are the days of fasting and abstinence?
The days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The days of abstinence are the two just mentioned along with each Friday in Lent. Some Catholics also fast from meat on Wednesdays during Lent. (Their own choice).
7. What counts as "meat"?
Food is considered meat if it comes from an animal that walks on land. This includes mammals and fowl. Crab? Not meat.
8. Can we fast and do our private Lenten practices on Sundays in Lent?
Even in Lent, Sunday is a solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord and is therefore not a day of fasting and penance. The Sundays during Lent are not counted among its forty days. Recognizing this can help to focus the goal of our private Lenten practices: the Easter joy that comes from being conformed to Christ Himself. Sundays in Lent strengthen us with a small foretaste of the Resurrection along our journey through the dessert of Lent. Breaking with our Lenten fasts (in moderation of course) can be a part of this fortaste.
9. Should liturgical music change at all during Lent?
The nature of Lent does in fact affect liturgical music. Musical instruments, including the organ, may only be used in order to accompany singing, Laetare Sunday and solemnities being exceptions to this rule. (Ceremonials of Bishops, 252).
10. Can parishes have weddings and baptisms during Lent?
Weddings and baptisms are permitted for pastoral reasons, but they must first refect the Lenten season in which they are carried out.