A Time of Reflection and Action

Lent is the season immediately before Easter. It is a time of reflection as we endeavour to understand more fully God’s great love for us and prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery; the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts forty days until Easter. As all Sundays are ‘Days of Resurrection’ the Sundays during the season are not part of the ’40 days’.

Lenten things to do together

WHAT IS LENT? This short video answers many of the questions people have about Lent. You can get the answers to such questions as: Why 40 days? Why is the colour of Lent Purple?
You can also read the questions and answers directly from the Loyola Press Website.

Exploring the meaning of Lent

LENT AT HOME Activities for a Busy Catholic Family
Home is “where the heart is”. Lenten experiences can take place anywhere and the home is an important place of evangelisation. These simple activities provide the opportunity to create Lent space in the home.

  1. Go to Mass as a family
  2. Forget the Alleluias
  3. Sing your heart out
  4. Give up or do more
  5. Be Artistic
  6. Connect with the Earth
  7. Bake
  8. Give to those less fortunate
  9. Say thanks

More things to do as a family during Lent

  • Read the Bible every day as a family – find a children’s version or an on-line edition.
  • On Holy Thursday hold a family foot-washing prayer.
  • Find parishes that offer Stations of the Cross and attend the mass as a family.
  • Make cards of encouragement to those in your parish’s RCIA program. After a lot of study and prayer, most of them will be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil.
  • Choose a Lenten action to do as a family. Is there something your family can give up that might help another family in need? Consider donating what you might spend on a meal out to a food bank instead. Or perhaps you could commit as a family to some social action, e.g. visit a rest home, do gardening for older members of the community.

Papal Hints for Lent

The Pope was inspired by the early Christian mystic St. John Chrysostom, who wrote:

No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.

On Fasting during the Lenten season, Pope Francis writes:

Fast from hurting words and say kind words
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude
Fast from anger and be filled with patience
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope
Fast from worries and trust in God
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity
Fast from pressures and be prayerful
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy
Faster from selfishness and be compassionate to others
Fast from grudges and be reconciled
Fast from words and be silent—so you can listen.

When we are mindful of our behaviours in this way we are remembering and practicing our call to be followers of Christ.  These are actions that enable us to be who we are called to be, namely disciples of Christ.  Missionaries of the Word.

Some Historical Background to Lent

Lent has a sombre atmosphere. We give up, do extra and pray more.  The joyous sounds of Alleluia and the Gloria are missing from the Sunday Mass. The colour purple with its connotations of penance is the dominant colour of vestments and church decoration.  But how did these practices start in our tradition.  Has the Church always observed the forty days of Lent?

Simply put, no.  As is the case for many of our practices the season of Lent evolved as the Church lived and celebrated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

From the second century CE, Christians prepared for the annual Easter celebration, the holiest of holy days by fasting for two days.  This fast was extended to the whole of Holy Week in the third century.  It was not until the early fourth century that the practice of a distinct and lengthy season of preparation began.

This longer time of fast evolved around the theme of baptism.  Baptism from the third century was strongly associated with the vigil of the anniversary of the Lord’s resurrection that is the Easter Vigil.  In the first centuries of the Christian community baptism preparation was not a quick process and could often last years.  During this remote preparation there was an emphasis on supporting a change in life style from pagan ways to the new way of Christ.  When the catechumen achieved this change they were admitted to a time of intense instruction and particular rituals of preparation.  This preparation time included fasting on Good Friday and Holy Saturday in order to be ready for baptism during the Easter Vigil.  This time of preparation would evolve into our season of Lent.

Initially this ritual preparation for Easter was only for those preparing for Baptism.  It gradually became popular for those already baptised to participate in this tradition of fasting.  With the growth of the custom of infant baptism in Middle Ages the catechumenate was discontinued but the tradition of forty days preparation for Easter continued.

The discipline of fasting became associated with the number forty in imitation of Jesus’ forty day fast (Matthew 4:2) which in turn reflected Moses’ forty days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28), and the forty years he Israelites spent in the desert.

Forty fascination fact

Quadragesima” the church’s technical term for Lent is Latin for forty.