Tag Archives: Lent

Lent with Pope Francis

In Lent we accompany Our Lord in his forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert before beginning his public life and in carrying the cross to Calvary before the Resurrection. In his Lenten Message for 2018 Pope Francis quotes Our Lord saying that false prophets would appear and the love of many would grow cold. In this meditation we consider how:

  • The love of many in our own generation has grown cold and we too may have grown cold in some aspects
  • Many have succumbed to the message of the false prophets of our own day, and we too may be tempted to follow them
  •  We can make resolutions to live Lent well in the three areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Lent in the Year of Mercy

lent-prayer-fasting-giving-works-of-love

Now that we are in Lent in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we pray in this meditation about how to live Lent well so as to derive the maximum benefit from this great season of grace.  We will consider:

  • the importance of Lent
  • the meaning of Lent and especially how we might live the three main areas of
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Almsgiving

Meditation “The joy of mortification”

We don’t usually look on self-denial or mortification as bringing us joy, but it does – both here and hereafter. In this meditation we consider:

  • Why a disciple of Jesus Christ should live self-denial
  • How mortification is essential for holiness
  • Eight benefits of mortification
  • How we can find areas for mortification in our spiritual life, in the fulfillment of our duties and in kindness towards others
  • How we can accept in a spirit of penance the crosses life brings
  • How those who live self-denial always find joy

 

The spirit of Advent

A fundamental aspect of the hope and expectation with which we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth in history and his second coming at the end of time is the spirit of penance. This is an aspect which is often overlooked. I recently answered a question on it in Catholic newspapers and here it is.

I know that Advent is a season of hope and expectation of the coming of Christ in history and at the end of time, but is it also a season of penance? We don’t hear much about this aspect, if indeed Advent is supposed to be a time of penance.

I agree that we don’t hear much about the penitential aspect of Advent, but we can be sure that it is still there in the mind of the Church.

This is seen most obviously in the colour purple, which is used for the vestments worn by the priest and for other decorations of the church. This colour is used in the two penitential seasons preceding the great feasts of the year: Lent preceding Easter and Advent preceding Christmas. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday, the colour may be rose, suggesting a lessening of the penitential aspect as we pass the halfway point in our Advent discipline.

Moreover, the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002) says that Advent is a time of “conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers, quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 3:2; n. 96).

Indeed, it has been traditional in the Church since the beginning to have days or seasons of penance as a way of preparing for the big feasts. The history of Advent bears this out. In the fifth century Pope St Leo the Great called for fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In 581 the Synod of Mac in present-day France called for fasting on the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from November 11, the feast of St Martin of Tours, up to and including Christmas Eve, December 24.
When it was first celebrated, Advent began six Sundays before Christmas. The number was reduced to four by Pope St Gregory the Great (591-604). Some Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches still celebrate a longer Advent, beginning on November 15, the day after they celebrate the feast of the Apostle Philip. Thus for them Advent, like Lent, has forty days and is sometimes referred to as the Little Lent. It is lived as a penitential season, known as the Nativity Fast or sometimes St Philip’s Fast, although the penance required is not as strict as that for Lent. In the Melkite Catholic Church the fast now begins on 10 December.

During this season the strict Eastern tradition requires abstinence from all creatures with a backbone, including mammals, birds and fish, and from all products made from these creatures, including milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs. In some traditions only one meal is allowed each day and this cannot be eaten before noon.

So it is clear that Advent is traditionally a penitential season like Lent. It is understandable that this should be the case. If we are to pray “Come, Lord Jesus”, as the liturgy invites us to do, we should make our soul more worthy to receive him. Like the Prodigal Son, we come before God in humility saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk 15:21). This sense of unworthiness, which we rightly feel, leads to the desire to purify our soul from sin and the effects of sin by acts of penance. It is as if we are cleaning out the stable of our soul so that Our Lord can find it a more worthy dwelling place on Christmas Day when he comes. To this end it can be helpful to choose one or more of our usual Lenten penances to live during Advent. In this way we are reminded that we must deny ourselves in order to prepare well for Christmas.

In addition to acts of self-denial, it is good to make a greater effort in our spiritual life too through such acts as attending Mass more often, setting aside regular times for prayer, reading the Scriptures or some book about Advent or Christmas, etc. And of course we should practise more acts of charity and almsgiving, which are so much a part of the spirit of Christmas.

Also important in living this spirit of repentance is receiving the sacrament of Penance, the great sacrament of mercy and joy by which we are forgiven our sins by God. There can hardly be a “Happy Christmas” without being in the state of grace and being embraced by the Father.

Meditation: Souls of Prayer

Just as in human relationships spending time together in conversation is essential, so in our relationship with God we need to spend time conversing with him in prayer. We want to be souls of prayer but we may not realise how important it is or we may not know how to go about it. In this meditation we pray about how to improve our prayer life.

The origin of Lent

We are now in the great season of Lent and we all have a general idea of what it is about. But how many know the history of this season and how the practice has changed over the years? I post here one of my columns in the Catholic Weekly on the topic, taken from my book Question Time 1. 

143. The origin of Lent

I have always been curious to know the origin of Lent. For example, where does the name come from and for how long has the Church been celebrating it?

The name Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, meaning springtime. The application of that name to our season of preparation for Easter is undoubtedly due to the fact that Lent is celebrated in Spring in the northern hemisphere. Nonetheless, it remains an appropriate name since, if Lent is lived well, it represents a true springtime, a new growth, in the spiritual life.

The celebration of Lent goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. In fact, St Leo the Great in the fifth century speaks of it having been instituted by the apostles. Traditionally, it has always been lived with a greater attention to the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In the first three centuries the period of fasting was limited to one or two days, or a week at most. The first mention of 40 days was in the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), but by the end of the fourth century the custom was widespread in both East and West. The number of 40 days is obviously taken from Christ’s 40 days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public life.

As regards the symbolism, St Augustine writes that the season of Lent symbolises this present life on earth, with its trials and tribulations, and the season of Easter symbolises the joys of the life to come.

In the East, the period of fasting was spread over seven weeks, with both Saturday and Sunday exempt from fasting, whereas in the West the period was six weeks, with Sundays exempt, leaving only 36 days of fasting. It was in the seventh century in the West that Lent was begun four days earlier, on Ash Wednesday, so that there would be 40 days of fasting as there are today. Sundays are not included in the 40 days.

From the fifth century on, the fast was very strict. Only one meal was allowed, toward evening. Meat was not allowed, even on Sundays. Flesh meat and fish, and in most places eggs and dairy products were absolutely forbidden. This is still the case in the Eastern tradition, where no vertebrates or products of vertebrates may be eaten, ruling out meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

Over time the rules of fasting gradually evolved. Eventually, a smaller meal was allowed during the day to keep up one’s strength for manual labour. Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed altogether. However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Before the Second Vatican Council, adults fasted on all the 40 days of Lent, eating only one full meal and two smaller meals, and they abstained from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. At present in Australia the required penance has been reduced to fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Meat may be eaten on the other Fridays of Lent.

Nonetheless, the faithful are encouraged to choose from the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so that they may unite themselves with Christ on all the 40 days of Lent in preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The name Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, meaning springtime. The application of that name to our season of preparation for Easter is undoubtedly due to the fact that Lent is celebrated in Spring in the northern hemisphere. Nonetheless, it remains an appropriate name since, if Lent is lived well, it represents a true springtime, a new growth, in the spiritual life.

The celebration of Lent goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. In fact, St Leo the Great in the fifth century speaks of it having been instituted by the apostles. Traditionally, it has always been lived with a greater attention to the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In the first three centuries the period of fasting was limited to one or two days, or a week at most. The first mention of 40 days was in the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), but by the end of the fourth century the custom was widespread in both East and West. The number of 40 days is obviously taken from Christ’s 40 days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public life.

As regards the symbolism, St Augustine writes that the season of Lent symbolises this present life on earth, with its trials and tribulations, and the season of Easter symbolises the joys of the life to come.

In the East, the period of fasting was spread over seven weeks, with both Saturday and Sunday exempt from fasting, whereas in the West the period was six weeks, with Sundays exempt, leaving only 36 days of fasting. It was in the seventh century in the West that Lent was begun four days earlier, on Ash Wednesday, so that there would be 40 days of fasting as there are today. Sundays are not included in the 40 days.

From the fifth century on, the fast was very strict. Only one meal was allowed, toward evening. Meat was not allowed, even on Sundays. Flesh meat and fish, and in most places eggs and dairy products were absolutely forbidden. This is still the case in the Eastern tradition, where no vertebrates or products of vertebrates may be eaten, ruling out meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

Over time the rules of fasting gradually evolved. Eventually, a smaller meal was allowed during the day to keep up one’s strength for manual labour. Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed altogether. However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Before the Second Vatican Council, adults fasted on all the 40 days of Lent, eating only one full meal and two smaller meals, and they abstained from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. At present in Australia the required penance has been reduced to fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Meat may be eaten on the other Fridays of Lent.

Nonetheless, the faithful are encouraged to choose from the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so that they may unite themselves with Christ on all the 40 days of Lent in preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Meditation on living Lent well

Lent for some is a season of sombre self-denial to which they do not look forward. In this meditation we consider how Lent can be a time of real renewal and spiritual joy, looking at various ways we can live the three aspects of prayer, fasting and almsgiving so as to derive the maximum benefit from this fruitful time.