Since Lent has now arrived, I thought I would take some time to explore what Lent means. As a fairly new Catholic, in the grand scheme of things, I think that educational reading should be high on my list of things to do over Lent, and really all year long. How else can we learn, if we don't even try? So, the first topic for this, will be what is Lent. And given that J has a huge amount of resources upstairs, I will have plenty of material over the next 40 days....well, closer to 38 now. hehe This time, the resources are partly my own. I have been buying books as we have been going to Newman's in DC, but haven't read them all yet. Please keep in mind, that while I try to be as accurate as possible, I am human and therefore quite capable of making errors. I will do my best to keep things completely truthful, and use good sources, which I will list at the end of each post. Here goes. 🙂 What is Lent? Why do we observe a Lenten season before Easter? What purpose does it serve? Why do people abstain during Lent? The Cathecism states that Lent is "The liturgical season of forty days which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the celebration of the Pashcal mystery (Easter Triduum). Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church's liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer." (P. 996) Well that is quite a mouthful. Alright, so the forty days of Lent, represents the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. Also, Jesus spent his 40 days praying and fasting. Section 540 of the Cathecism states that "By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert." (P. 138) Along with the Church herself uniting with Jesus, we also take the time during Lent to bring ourselves back to the Jesus. I don't just mean this is a physical way of having stopped going to Mass, but also in finer sense of reminding us why we are going to Mass. Sometimes we can get into a routine. Monday to Friday work, Saturday run errands, Sunday Church, repeat. Lent reminds us about everything Easter related. Easter isn't about the Easter Bunny or the dawning of Spring. Jesus died for our sins. Died and rose again, so that we could have everlasting life. That's pretty important. To think that God's only Son died for us is pretty intense, and not something I think should be looked past. So we have the practice of spending the 40 days before Easter considering what Easter really means, in correlation with the time spent by Jesus in the desert before his crucifixion. So, why do we abstain and fast during Lent as well? The Cathecism says that Penance comes in 2 forms. 1) Interior penance. This is "a conversion of heart toward God and away from sin, which implies the intention to change ones' life because of hope in divine mercy." (P. 892) According to section 1431 in the Cathecism "This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart)." (P. 360) 2) External penance. "External acts of penance include fasting, prayer, and almsgiving...The observance of certain penitential practices is obliged by the fourth precept of the Church" (P. 892). Oh...obliged. hmmm, better look into that one some more. Section 2043 says "The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart." (P. 494) So, the penance is not just merely a suggestion, it is a requirement. This is important information. Diving into the Modern Catholic Dictionary I find the following explanation of fasting during Lent, "According to the prescription of Pope Paul VI, in revising the Church's laws of fast and abstinence, "The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of Great Lent, according to the diversity of rites. Their substantial observance binds gravely" (Paenitemini, III, norm II)." (P. 315). It's my understanding, and at the moment I am at a loss to find something to back this up without delving into Church documents of which I am not familiar, that the usual practice of abstinence on Fridays during Lent is usually not eating meat. The practice of abstinence and fasting is as varied as the people practising it. If you were to go around asking Catholics what they were giving up for Lent you would have a huge variety of answers. The common one that I hear a lot is chocolate or sweets. Lately, giving up Facebook has become popular. I can understand the idea of giving up Facebook. You can have more time to devote elsewhere, like your family, and it can serve to re-center you in your faith, your life, etc. As for the chocolate, I'm not sure I understand. You do suffer by doing it, that's true. But, people gorge themselves the day before Lent starts, and sit there with a chocolate bunny in front of their face watching the hands count down at Easter to be able to shove the whole thing in their mouths. To me, this takes the focus away from Jesus and puts it on that chocolate bunny. That means the point of Lent is lost, and if a person is in this position, then this is probably not the best choice for their Lenten practices. I sat here for quite some time before Lent trying to figure out what to do. First, we do abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Due to my health issues, we normally do not do this the rest of the year. Trying to remember what day of the week it is and that we are not to have meat on Fridays posses some interesting problems, but that's part of the process. Many people I know, abstain from meat on Fridays all year long, unless a feast day happens to fall on a Friday. Because of this, fasting on Fridays during Lent would be of no consequence on their daily lives. So, they add days, or avoid meat altogether for Lent. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone. There are health issues to consider. In my case, I am severely anaemic, so I need red meat to help try and get me up to a normal level. Not eating meat for that length of time would mean a life threatening drop in iron levels. But, for the healthy, this could be quite fine. You do have to alter your diet accordingly to add proteins and things if needed, and of course seafood is acceptable. For the most part we don't actually give up anything other than meat. What we do is we add things. What we add has to be unselfish though. That's surprisingly difficult. It usually entails spiritual readings, prayer time, etc. The goal is to make this practice a lasting one. That makes it all the more difficult the following year when you have to come up with something else to add on. hehe I am going to cut this off early, because I just noticed my word count, and realized that my topic is massive. I might have to make a part 2 later if it looks like I left a bunch of things out, but this sums up the initial points. I hope you forgive any rambling on my part. 🙂 I did try to make my points quickly. I think it's a good thing that I didn't delve into any Church documents past the Catechism. Bibliography: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. 2000. Hardon, John A., S.J. Modern Catholic Dictionary. Bardstown, Kentucky: Eternal Life. 2004.