Lent – A Time of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

Cross palms

I once read an excerpt from one of the Church Fathers.  It was absolutely beautiful.

“And to show that we do this with ready mind, we must exercise not only the self-restraint of fasting, but also diligence in almsgiving, that from the ground of our heart also may spring the germ of righteousness and the fruit of love, and that we may deserve God’s mercy by showing mercy to His poor.” ~ Saint Leo the Great (Sermon 17:3)

This is the root of the Lenten season, penance: fasting and giving alms if possible in addition to prayer which anybody can do, rich or poor.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists prayer, fasting and almsgiving as three chief manners of “interior penance of the Christian” (no. 1434).  During these forty days or so, we are expected to abstain from red meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent, though the traditional custom is to abstain from red meat all Fridays of the year (rf. Canon 1250); a national conference of bishops however can substitute the annual fasting and abstinence with another form of penance such as almsgiving or going on a pilgrimage (rf. Canon 1253).  The United States is one of those nations where Catholics can substitute fasting and abstinence on all Fridays outside of Lent with almsgiving, pilgrimage or some other form piety or charity work, but not on Lenten Fridays.

The Stations of the Cross are a common form of popular piety during Lent which consist of many Catholics and sometimes non-Catholics go to a parish church to be led by somebody such as a priest in 13 Stations, in which various parts of the Passion narrative are explained in detail with prayers relevant to each Station.  Nowadays it is common for a 14th Station to be added which is the Resurrection of Jesus to celebrate the closing of Lent and the Passion of Christ with Easter and the Resurrection of Christ.  The observance of Lent is for everybody young and old.


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