Lent precedes and prepares Christians for Easter. It is a time to hear the Word of God, to convert, to prepare for and remember one’s Baptism, to be reconciled with God and one’s neighbor, and of more frequent recourse to the “arms of Christian penance”: prayer, fasting and good works (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18). Recalling the holy symbolism of 40 days and the mystery of the Hebrew exodus, and anticipating the sacraments of Christian initiation, practices during this time concentrate on Christ’s humanity and during Lent the faithful pay close attention to the Passion and Death of Our Lord.
The beginning of the 40 days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes used during the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Passed down to us from ancient times, when converted sinners submitted themselves to such public penance, the act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God.
Not merely an external act, the use of ashes invokes internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent. By receiving ashes, the faithful become disposed toward conversion and renewed Easter commitment, which involves self denial of things that are superfluous and turning toward the needs of others, namely the poor. Prayer should be intensified and the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist received, and the practice of fasting reminds Christians that, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; antiphon for the first Sunday of Lent).
Lenten Fasting Practices
As a reminder, Catholics aged 18 to 59 are obliged to fast and abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting allows one full meal, and two smaller meals may be taken but not equal to one full meal. Catholics 14 years and older must abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.
If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily His Resurrection.
Stations of the Cross
Venerating the path of Christ’s final earthly journey has been a practice of the faithful, perhaps begun by His own Mother and disciples, growing in popularity by pilgrims to Jerusalem during the Middle Ages and prayed in Catholic parishes to this day. Also known as the Via Crucis, it is a type of veneration of the cross where the faithful movingly follow Christ from the Mount of Olives to Calvary, and to the garden where he was placed in a freshly hewn tomb.
The Easter Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or “Passion Sunday,” where a joyous procession with the palms commemorates Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their work places as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in His Paschal Victory.
The Easter Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.
The Church begins the Easter Triduum on the evening of the Thursday in Holy Week by devoting herself to the remembrance of the Last Supper and the institution of the holy sacrifice of the Mass. At the supper on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus, loving those who were his own in the world even to the end, offered his Body and Blood to the Father under the appearance of bread and wine, gave them to the apostles to eat and drink, then enjoined the apostles and their successors in the priesthood to offer them in turn.
Celebration of Good Friday consists of the Liturgy of the Word, General Intercessions, Veneration of the Holy Cross and Holy Communion. On this day, the Gospel texts of the Passion are especially detailed and the fol- lowing Scripture are read: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; and John 18:1-19:42.
Easter Vigil Mass
The pinnacle of Holy Week is Easter Vigil Mass. During this Mass, celebrated after nightfall on Holy Saturday, the baptismal water is blessed and the sacraments of initiation are conferred on the adults who have joined the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The lighting of the Paschal Candle this night is symbolic of Christ’s resurrection and reentry as the Light of the World, and the Scripture readings recount the history of salvation.
Easter Sunday’s Mass celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his victory over death, and our redemption with great solemnity. The faithful re- new their baptismal promises after the homily, followed by the sprinkling with water blessed at the Vigil.
Frequently Asked Questions about Lent.
Good Friday Fast and Abstinence
A gentle reminder that Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence. Fasting applies to Catholics who are 18 to 59 years of age and it means not eating more than one full meal and two smaller (half) meals. Also, there is no eating between meals. Abstinence is the avoidance of meat products for those 14 years and older. There is no upper age limit.
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