Reflecting the Penitential Nature of Lent

Carmel Bulletin, 22 February 2015

lent_enviro_08 005Hopefully things look and feel a bit different at Mass this weekend than they did last weekend.

The large banners have come down and the plants and flowers are all gone.  There may be less music, and instruments should only be used to accompany singing, as opposed to being used for solo pieces:

During Lent the altar is not to be decorated with flowers, and the use of musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing… (Ceremonial of Bishops, no. 252)

All this is done for a greater reason than giving our florist, Sofie a break from arranging flowers for us every week (although with all her great work, she does deserve a rest).  The “stripping back” of the space and even elements of the liturgy helps to focus us on the penitential nature of the season.

It is similar to what we are encouraged to do in our own lives.  Lent is a time when we may fast, particularly on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays, or we may choose to abstain from particular things.  Such abstinence may not be specifically from food, but may also be from other material goods or indulgences that we otherwise take for granted.

By taking the opportunity during Lent to do away with those preoccupations, we offer ourselves more time and space to focus on our relationship with God.

Through its twofold theme of repentance and baptism, the season of Lent disposes both the catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery… The faithful, listening more intently to the word of God and devoting themselves to prayer, are prepared [for Easter] through a spirit of repentance to renew their baptismal promises.  (Ceremonial of Bishops, no. 249)

Fast and Abstinence

Carmel Bulletin, 2 March 2014

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday.  Both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are particular days of fast and abstinence, and we are encouraged to make these regular practices, especially during this season.

The purpose of our fasting and abstaining is simple – to remove the distractions that the “wants” in our lives cause us, so that we may focus on what we really need.  The first and foremost need in our lives of course being a deep, loving relationship with our God and with each other.  We are called to consider how we may make this penitential practice an authentic part of our Lenten observance, as we hear in the gospel of Ash Wednesday.

Fish Market, © FreeFoto.comThe thought of fasting or abstaining may seem somewhat extreme, or old-fashioned, or both.  It can often be something that is seen as the typical behaviour of “those Catholics”, with the connotations and preconceived notions that come with it.

Yet periods of fast and abstinence are alive and well in the wider community, even if people don’t realise it.  World Vision still fundraises through the 40 Hour Famine each year.  We’re asked every twelve months to abstain from using electricity for an hour (funnily enough, this year on 29 March – during Lent).  Men are encouraged every November to abstain (somewhat) from shaving to support research into prostate cancer, while to support leukaemia research, we’re asked to give up our hair altogether (until it grows back, of course, and again, this will fall during Lent this year).

It all certainly makes not having meat for a handful of Fridays sound pretty tame, doesn’t it?

View and download our Lent, Holy Week and Easter Triduum Schedule

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26/2/11 – Fasting and Abstinence

This week we celebrated Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the season of Lent.  Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence.  In the past, rules about fasting and abstinence in the Church were clear and very well known.  Nowadays they are often not as well known as they used to be.  Are we required to fast?  Who should fast and when?  The following statements are from the Church’s Code of Canon Law, and are the key point of reference on the matter.

The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Fish Market, © FreeFoto.comAbstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

Code of Canon Law, 1250-1253

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10/2/08 – “Giving Up” During Lent

What did you give up for Lent?

It’s a common question at the beginning of this liturgical season. Yet sometimes we can become preoccupied for forty days about what we won’t do again until Easter.

This doesn’t mean that we should not abstain from things of our choosing during Lent. We must, however, do so with a clear understanding of why we are doing so. The gospel reading for this First Sunday of Lent provides us with the example of Christ himself.

It’s a story we hear every year: Jesus retreats to the desert for forty days and is then tempted. Jesus’ purpose? To focus himself intently on how he will serve his Father. This is shown not only in the fact that this retreat precedes his public ministry, but also in the great commitment and resolve he shows against the devil.

So it must be when we engage in the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We do these things not simply for the sake of doing so, or because we believe others will think poorly of us if we don’t. Rather, we do so in order to remove the distractions that keep us from focussing intently on God and how we will be Christ to the world. By removing those distractions through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we create our own “desert”. Like Jesus, Elijah, and many others, this “desert” is a place where we step away from life’s temptations and allow God to speak to us.

It is such a retreat, a period of focussing intently on God that our catechumens also enter into during this Lenten season before their initiation. Please keep Mechelle in your prayers as she is elected by the Bishop and the Diocese to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. Don’t forget that all are welcome to come to the rite of election this Sunday, 10 February at 2:00 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

photo: Desert Leader