Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
First Sunday of Lent—1 March AD 2009
On the Lenten Observance

The Pinnacle of the Temple

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

Psalm 90-Translated from the Old Latin

“It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation ...that we give thanks unto the Father, almighty and everlasting God.  Who by the fasting of our body doest curb our vices, elevate our minds, and bestow virtue and reward....”[1]

    Years ago the observance of Lent was something which everyone understood, and knew just what was required of them.  During the past forty years or so, things have been in such turmoil that many of us are confused about what we are expected to do for Lent, and why we are to do it.  Among traditional Catholics there is often discussion as to whether the new or the old laws are to be observed for Lent—they are often surprised to find that if fact—if not in practice—things have not changed all that much.

    The new Code of Canon Law requires those of us over 14 to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays of the year, and those of us between 21 and 59 to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.[2]  Bishops have the authority to dispense or alter these requirements.

    The new Code also requires us to make a Sacramental Confession at least once a year[3] and to receive Holy Communion during the Paschal season,[4] which in the United States extends from the first Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday.

    Of course, these are bare minimums, even for those who follow the new ways.  The traditions of the Church call upon us to do much more.  And certainly, if we are to achieve the things mentioned in the Lenten Preface, we will have to do more.

    And, it goes without saying that we must do more than simply fasting and abstaining.  Our observance of Lent must be grounded in regular prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments, spiritual reading, and meditation on the things of God and the state of our soul.  Without these, we are wasting our time.

    Nonetheless, we find that following our Lord's example in the 40 day fast will bring great spiritual benefit.

    Fasting helps us to establish discipline over our bodily appetites.  If we can train ourselves to forego legitimate pleasures, we will strengthen ourselves to resist temptation to indulge in evil pleasures.  Developing the ability to say “no” to fancy foods and second helpings may enable us to say no to more serious temptations when they arise.

    Giving up food, drink, and other earthly material things helps us to adopt a more spiritual outlook.  As we give up our attachment to these things, it becomes more and more easy to attach ourselves to the divine realities.

    We should also consider the need which each one of us has to do penance.  Through sin we offend God, and we merit punishment.  If we do not do something to pay the price of sin here on earth, we know that we will do so under less favorable conditions in Purgatory.  Saying a few “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” after Confession will not absolve us of all the punishments that are due for serious sins.  Apart from gaining indulgences, one of the best things we can do is to keep a truly penitential Lenten fast.

    We should remember too that a great deal of evil goes on in this world which we cannot control.  Yet it still offends God.  And we can do something to quiet God's anger by doing penance for those will not do penance for themselves.  Moses, Elias, and certainly our Lord serve as good role models in this connection.  The need for doing penance for the society around us has become increasingly more important in recent years and days.

     The requirements of the Lenten fast have varied somewhat over time, and from place to place, but in general, until a few hundred years ago, the Lenten fast was quite rigorous.  Catholics were expected to eat little or no meat during all of Lent.  Although, in most cases, there was no obligation to fast on Sundays.  In some cases, abstinence from meat extended even to milk, eggs, and fish.  A truly rigorous Lent might even exclude the use of oil.  Generally, in more recent times, the Lenten fast has called for only one full meal a day, with one or two snacks (called “collations”) in place of the others.

    For own Lenten observance, we should look to both the law of the Church and to our roots in Catholic tradition.  This might suggest:

  • One full meal, two small ones if needed.  No eating between meals.

  • Taking no meat on Fridays, Ember days, and the vigil of Easter.

  • Giving up some favorite food, or drink.

  • Foregoing TV, movies, parties, etc.  At least reducing these things.

  • An increased awareness and willingness to help with the needs of the poor and the ignorant.

  • Daily spiritual reading, prayer, and attendance at Mass and the Sacraments.

    Of course, any of this must be grounded in common sense.  We are free to modify our Lenten observance if:  It would hurt our health. Of if it would make us unable to do our work.  Or if it would interfere with some more important spiritual work.

    Yet even if we are excused from fasting, we shouldn't lose sight of our obligation to do penance, and to live the spiritual life to the best of our ability.  If we are unable to fast and abstain, we must find some alternatives.

    Again, the purpose of Lent is not negative.  Rather it is quite positive:  it is to "curb our vices, elevate our minds, and [to receive] virtue and reward...."

    As I have said many times before, through this Lent we are preparing not only for Easter, but for an eternity of happiness with God in heaven.  And, we don't know how many Lents we have left before that comes to pass.  Let's make the best of this one, while we can.


* The Pinnacle of the Temple.

[1]   Preface of Lent. [Latin] [English]

[2]   nc.1251,1252.

[3]   nc.989

[4]   nc.920


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