Lent is a season to retreat from what is normally the frantic pace of life to pause, take stock and restore or develop good habits. There are many things that we as Catholics do during the season of Lent. These practices are not about us and doing things (or not doing things) to check off a list. We do them to open ourselves up to God and help us to be missionary disciples of Jesus.
Practices are divided into three ‘types’.
Fasting is one of the Lenten practices. Catholics over the age of 7 and under 60 are required to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in New Zealand. We are called to fast every Friday on the year and all through Lent. Although the term fast usual concerns the eating of less food we can also fast from gossip, using our devise… the list is endless. The point is to pause and consider Christ and all he did for us, and to be mindful of what we consume and do.
Another practice of Lent is to share with people in need. To give alms. During Lent we are particularly mindful of the riches we have and what we can share. Not just from our excess but truly share. Giving to others might be in action as well as money and goods.
Pray is one. Lent is a time to pray. That’s not to say that we don’t pray during the rest of the year! But it is a time to pray more, more often, more deliberately, more creatively, more with people…more. One of the common prayer practices of Lent is to pray the Stations of the Cross.
Stations of the Cross
Constantine erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the site where Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been. Soon after pilgrimages to the Church began. These were extended to take in other holy sites significant to the paschal story. The number of stations visited on the pilgrimage varied. One record notes that 37 stations were visited.
For most believers the reality of a trip to the Holy Land was remote. To reflect the desire to pray with the moments of the Paschal Way parishes prepared pilgrim walks within the grounds of the Church or Monastery. The method of recognising the place depicted varied. Some used just simple crosses with a word or two, others, carvings. People paused as individuals or groups to reflect and pray at each Station. There were no set number of Stations, sometimes there were three, sometimes fifteen or more.
In 1886 Franciscans were permitted to have depictions of the events described in the Stations in their Churches. This was extended to all Churches five years later. The Stations moved inside. At this stage the number was normally 14. Over the years what has become known as the 14 traditional stations became the ones most commonly depicted. The Scriptural Way of the Cross was introduced in 1991 by St John Paul II.
This is one of the Stations of the Cross outside the church in Motuti.
The purpose of all the practices of Lent is that we practice those things that build our discipleship capacity. Happy practicing.