During Lent keep your heart and mind focused of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During Lent we can focus on what we are doing, “look at me, I gave up…..ain’t I good?’ and not what the Lord is doing in my life.
If we want a greater understanding of Lent, we should look at the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
Preparation for reception of Sacraments of Initiation and renewal of our own Baptism is at the heart of the Lenten Season. Since the Second Vatical Council, the Church has focused on the baptismal character of Lent as we journey with Catechumens towards the waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil.
Lent as a 40-day season developed in the fourth century from three merging sources:
1. There was the ancient practice of the “Paschal Fast” which was a two day observance before Easter. This “Paschal Fast” is still observed when the penitential season of Lent ends on “Spy Wednesday” and we begin the Triduum of Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
2. Preparation for Baptism, including an intense period of preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation to be celebrated at Easter became an essential part of formation of people for initiation. On the First Sunday of Lent the candidates preparing for Baptism, enter an intense period of preparation for the Sacraments to be celebrated at Easter. They are accepted by the Archbishop to go forward to the waters of baptism. They are now called “The Elect”. They are chosen by the Church to be worthy to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
During this period you will observe prayers, blessings and dismissal during mass of those preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation. Theses 40 days are is an intense period of preparation for them and for all of us.
3. The third development was the Order of Penitents, which was modeled on the catechumenate. The baptized, who had fallen back into serious sin sought a second conversion. They were probably known in the community for some grave sin. As the catechumens / Elect entered their final period of preparation for Baptism, the penitents and the rest of the community accompanied them on their journey and prepared to renew their baptismal vows at Easter.
In our Catholic tradition, the number 40 has symbolic meaning, and occurs numerous times in the Bible.
A period of 40 days or years, is more than a time lapse or linear measurement. It represents a long time and a period of preparation or testing. When 40 days or 40 years have passed, the “right amount of time” has been completed in preparation for the working of God’s grace. Preparation being completed, something new and wonderful begins.
Recall the 40 days and 40 nights of rain during the flood in Genesis 7, the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert after the Exodus, and the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry.
For those who measure time in calendar days you know the period from Ash Wednesday to the vigil of Holy Saturday contains 46 calendar days. However , Sundays do not “count” in the 40 days of Lent because every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. Also remember Lent ends before we begin the Easter Triduum on Holy Thursday. Although we begin Lent with the ceremony of Ashes, there is no ceremony of ending.
As you participate in the Lenten Season you will notice some changes in the celebration of the Liturgy.
One of the obvious changes is the color of the vestments. During the Lenten Season purple is the predominant color.
Purple is a color rich in symbolism. It focuses our attention on the fasting and repentance associated with the Lenten season. It is also a color of royalty, particularly the Roman emperors at the time of Christ. As an act of derision toward Our Lord, Pilate placed a purple robe on Jesus, whom he called “King of the Jews”.
The reason for purple’s regal reputation comes down to a simple case of supply and demand. It was very difficult to produce the purple dye.
Some churches are adorned with purple banners during Lent.
The “Alleluia” and “Gloria” are joyful chants, with Alleluia being the primary chant of the Easter Season - "He is risen, Alleluia."
Lent is a penitential period when we express sorrow for the sin that put Jesus on the Cross. Instead of the joyful Alleluia, we sing an alternative hymn which still recognizes Jesus as Lord. During Lent, we prepare our hearts for resuming the Alleluia on Easter Sunday.
In Lent, we also omit the “Gloria,” because it is a joyful hymn.
In the Old Testament ashes represented death and sorrow for sins.
Our bodies are made of dust (Gen 2:7), and upon death they return to “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:17). Ashes serve as a stark reminder of human mortality. In biblical times, once people admitted their sins they covered themselves with sackcloth and ashes (Jer 6:26; 25:34; Dan 9:3; Jonah 3:6,10) as a public admission of guilt, a plea for God’s mercy, a promise to reform, and a pledge to resist future temptation.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the burning of palms from previous Palm Sundays, the residue is crushed into a fine powder, and then applied to the forehead in the Sign of the Cross with one of two statements:
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (Mk 1:15)
“Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return” (Gen 3:19).
Lenten Regulations: As in the past, the following regulations are in place for Abstaining and Fasting during Lent:
Abstinence: Everyone fourteen years of age and older is bound to abstain from meat on ASH WEDNESDAY, the FRIDAYS of Lent, and GOOD FRIDAY.
Fast: Everyone eighteen years of age and older but under the age of sixty is also bound to fast on ASH WEDNESDAY and GOOD FRIDAY. On these two days, the law of fast allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food during the day, so long as this does not constitute another full meal. Drinking liquids during the day is permitted. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, a priest assigned to pastor ministry or confessor should be consulted. In the spirit of penance, the faithful should not lightly excuse themselves from this obligation.