Saturday, 30 September 2017 09:36

The observance of lent and the simple explanation of what it is

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The penitential season of Lent is the period of forty days beginning on Ash Wednesday. It is a season of the Church year which commemorates the forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness before he began his public ministry of preaching for repentance. Six Sundays are within the season, the last, Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Thursday begins the Triduum “three days” before Easter day, which includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Pre-Lenten Season

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the pre-Lenten penitential season began on the Sunday three weeks before the beginning of Lent, called Septuagesima. The word Septuagesima (seventieth) was a supposed to be a reminder of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people, and thus of our captivity in sin, although this Sunday was actually only sixty-three days before Easter. The succeeding pre-Lenten Sundays were called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. Just as in Lent, violet vestments were worn and the Alleluia was omitted from Mass. The liturgical changes initiated by the Council removed this anticipated pre-Lenten penitential season, however, and the Church returned to the earlier practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday. The Sundays between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent are now in the season called Ordinary Time.

Carnival in Liturgy

Carnival is from the Latin Carnevale or "farewell to meat," and it is a time of joyful feasting and fun. The practice of celebrating carnival probably began in ancient times when the Sunday a week before the beginning of Lent was called Dominica Carnevala, or "farewell to meat Sunday".


Suggestions for Family Activities on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday

Families can make this Tuesday a spiritual time of preparation for Lent by going to confession where this is possible this is a sort of spiritual pantry cleaning. Decide on Lenten sacrifices appropriate to the age of each child, reminding them that our souls need this spiritual exercise to gain strength for living as Christians, just as our bodies need exercise to remain healthy.

Our sacrifices are like a gift offered to God, and all real gifts 'cost' the giver something. Our Lenten spiritual preparations should not be confined to giving up things. We should "take on" things, extra prayers, especially family prayers.

If your family has not already established some form of family prayer, Lent is a good time to begin. If you have not established the habit of praying together as a family, and in our busy times it is difficult, do set aside some time this Lent to do it. Fathers and mothers can plan together what form this will take -- whether as simple as saying the Angelus every night after supper, or as elaborate as reciting Psalms daily together in the evening. What ever is put aside in form of sacrifice has to be passed on in charity to those most in need.

Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast

The main current of Lent must flow through the interior human person, through hearts and consciences. The essential effort of repentance consists in this. In this effort the human determination to be converted to God is invested with the predisposing grace of conversion and, at the same time, of forgiveness and of spiritual liberation. This reflection by Pope John Paul II in Lent of 1979, recorded in a collection of his meditations, ‘The Light of Christ’, indicates the attitude with which we should approach our observance of this penitential season, a season which begins with a sign of repentance so ancient as to be almost lost in antiquity, and continues with penitential action equally ageless. Putting ashes on our heads as a form of penitence is a practice inherited from Jewish tradition. The ashes imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a reminder of our unworthiness and sinfulness which corrupts stains and leads us to death (we return to the dust from whence we came.) Ashes remind us of our original sin and our need of redemption; our need to be cleansed of sin and made worthy of Salvation.

Fasting and Penance Today

The Code of Canon Law number.1250-1251 states that Fridays throughout the year and in the time of Lent are penitential days for the entire Church. Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction, in the Church, between fast that is, limiting food to one full meal a day and abstaining from eating meat. Abstinence from meat on Fridays as the universal form of penance on all Fridays should be encouraged since there are several excuses for not fulfilling our observations. We may choose another way of observing the Church's requirement for acts of penance on Fridays, but we are not to neglect the original traditions for the sake of personal preferences. Both fast and abstinence are required on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil.

Farewell to Alleluia and Gloria

During the penitential seasons of the Church, the Gloria and the Alleluia are not said or sung. The Gloria is sung only at the Mass on Holy Thursday, usually with great ceremony, organ, trumpets, and often with the ringing of bells. After the singing of the Gloria, musical instruments are to be kept silent until the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil. Catholic families are encouraged to imitate this solemn silence by not playing instrumental music in their homes at this time.

Suggestions for families

Lent is a time for each of us to increase our knowledge of the ‘faith that is in us’ in order that we can fulfil our vocation as Christians to extend this rich blessing of faith to others. We accomplish personal renewal and revitalization of our faith through penance, prayer and instruction.


The value of self-denial must be learned early in a person's life. Lent provides an excellent opportunity to teach our selves and the children the necessity of self-denial in our permissive society. A spirit of fasting can include restriction of luxuries such as television watching, shopping and going out with friends. We can give away clothing or possessions to those in need or we can give time to the Lord by volunteering our services.

Special prayers and devotions

Whenever possible we can go to daily Mass, and pray more often alone or with family members. Children could make a memories card or banner to be ‘veiled during Lent’ and displayed prominently during the Easter season. Initiate a practice of saying extra prayers at family meals. One ancient prayer which reminds us of the multifaceted nature of penance is the following prayer said by the Eastern Church during the Lenten fast. Read passages in Scripture which help to explain the meaning of fasting and of penance in our lives.

For study and reflection

Families might develop a Lenten reading program to replace some of the television shows we have given up for Lent. Also, reading aloud from the Bible or from a Catholic classic every evening for half an hour can be a way of fostering family conversation about the Catholic faith. During Lent we should divide our reading into three parts: something for the mind, something for the heart, something for the soul.

Laetare Sunday

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday, from the first words of the liturgy. Since it is in the middle of Lent, like Gaudete Sunday midway through Advent, Laetare reminds us of the Event we look forward to at the end of the penitential season. As on Gaudete Sunday, rose-colored vestments may replace violet, symbolizing, the Church's joy in anticipation of the Resurrection.


Passiontide is the last two weeks of Lent, when the readings and prayers of the liturgy focus on the Passion of Our Lord. The word passion in the Christian sense does not mean an intense emotion; it refers to the historical events of Jesus' suffering and death. Although for several

Centuries the Fifth Sunday of Lent was known as Passion Sunday; after the Second Vatican Council this name was restored to the Sunday at beginning of Holy Week, formerly called Palm Sunday. As a penitential season of the Church, Passiontide is evidently even more ancient than Lent.

Devotions and Prayers for Passiontide

Among the traditional devotions of Passiontide are saying the Stations of the Cross, praying the Rosary, meditating on the five Sorrowful Mysteries, and saying the five prayers in honour of Christ's five wounds. It is fitting, during this season, that we remember Mary and her in-expressible grief at the suffering and death of her Son. Another ancient devotion for this season was The Seven Sorrows (Dolors) of Mary. Christian believers appealed to Mary, the Mother of Sorrows who publicly shared in her Son's suffering on the road to Calvary, taking all things upon herself-concern, affliction and sorrow. This devotion listed the Seven Sorrows of Mary as: 1. The prophecy of Simeon, 2. The flight to Egypt, 3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple, 4.His way of the Cross, 5. His Crucifixion, 6. The piercing of His heart on Calvary, and 7. His burial in the tomb.

Passion Sunday

Holy Week is the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian faith, begins with Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. In spite of the spiritual gravity of Holy Week, it begins with joy; for on this Sunday, the Church celebrates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which foretells the victory of His Resurrection and His return to earth in glory; and with the first reading of the Passion in the liturgies of Holy Week, the Church begins her commemorative pilgrimage with her Lord on His way to Calvary.

Blessed Palms

The blessing and distribution of palms takes place on Passion Sunday, and altar decorations are palm branches rather than flowers. The palms are solemnly blessed by the priest, and each worshipper holds the blessed palm during the singing of the ancient hymn, Gloria Laus/All Glory, Laud and Honour” and during reading of the Passion.

Palm Procession

According to the account of a fifth-century Spanish pilgrim to the Holy Land, Passion Sunday Mass was celebrated in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After this the people were invited to meet again in the afternoon at the Mount of Olives, in the Church of Eleona the grotto of the Our Father”. They then proceeded to the Church of the Ascension for a service consisting of hymns and antiphons, readings and prayers, where at five o'clock in the afternoon the Gospel and the palms were read and the procession set out for the city. The people responded to the antiphons with the acclamation, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," as we say even today.

Holy Week

Holy Week has been held in great reverence since the very early years of the Church. No other Christian observance has interested the world so much as Holy Week. For the rituals of the Church during these few days of each year, so complex and so laden with meaning, emphatically and prophetically proclaim to the entire world the liberating and redeeming and perpetual truth of the Gospel, the Good News that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. Although in our time and nation the Church's only required food fast is to restrict meals (fast) and to abstain from meat (abstinence) on Good Friday, we learn from medieval Church documents that Christians observed a strict fast from Monday of Holy Week to the cock-crow of Easter Day. A very strict fast was usually observed from Thursday evening to Easter morning.

Confession and the Easter Duty

The discipline of fasting from food is not the only nor is even the primary way in which we must prepare our entire selves, body and soul to receive the benefits of our Saviour redeeming sacrifice. Physical fasting is not enough. This is what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, like the early Fathers of the Church, tried to teach us with the emphasis on personal awareness of how we have offended God and need His forgiveness. As Blessed John Paul II said “The awareness of sin, in which the person knows before whom and towards whom he is guilty, is an indispensable pre-condition for obtaining the objective value of forgiveness. This is because He against whom the sin is committed and who is therefore offended is also the Father who has the power to forgive it.” This is what the Church invites and implores us to do during Holy Week.

The Triduum

In the Triduum, or Three Days that is: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday; the Church gives us a singularly dramatic, intense and richly symbolic expression of the very heart of Christian belief. Even in our unspiritual time and culture, the Triduum and Easter re-affirms the essence of the Church's central beliefs in the strongest possible way which penetrates the deepest recesses of the human heart, and calls forth a response from all, young and old, rich and poor, and in every state of life. By participating in the liturgy of the Church and by increasing our own observance of these holy days, we can deepen our understanding of these Events in the history of Salvation.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is the most complex and profound of all religious services, saving only the Easter Vigil. It celebrates both the institution by Christ himself of the Eucharist and of the institution of the sacerdotal priesthood as distinct from the 'priesthood of all believers; for in this, His last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover, He is the self-offered Passover Victim, and every ordained priest to this day presents this same sacrifice, by Christ's authority and command, in exactly the same way. The Last Supper was also Christ's farewell to His assembled disciples, some of whom would betray, desert or deny Him before the sun rose again. There is such an abundance of symbolism in the solemn celebration of the events of Holy Thursday; layer upon layer, in fact that we can no more than hint at it in these few words. It has inspired great works of art and literature.

Family Activities for Holy Thursday

The family can prepared a Christian adaptation of a Passover Seder, simple enough for use in families with young children. This special meal stresses the Christian significance of elements of the traditional Jewish Passover meal (seder) as it may have been celebrated in our Lord's time. It is neither a re-enactment of the Last Supper, nor a Jewish service. Holy Thursday’s emphasis on ritual washing also gave rise to the ancient tradition of spring cleaning, evidently related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover. Adults and children who are old enough to accompany their parents can return to Church after Mass for a period of Adoration.

The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross continue to be a popular devotion in both the Eastern and Western Churches. It was developed during the Crusades when the knights and pilgrims began to follow the route of Christ's way to Calvary. This devotion spread throughout Europe and was promulgated by the Franciscan friars in the 14th and 15th centuries. Eventually, the Stations

of the Cross became an important catechetical tool, and the popularity of this devotion inspired some of the greatest examples of medieval Christian art. Some scholars believe that medieval miracle plays, which were essentially tableaux of Christ's life, developed from the sculptured representations of the Stations of the Cross in the great Churches. These scenes from the Way of the Cross have provided inspiration for many of the world's greatest works of visual art. During Lent and Holy Week most parishes have a service of Stations at least once. It is worth taking children to this so that they can participate with other Catholics in this timeless and very moving devotion.

Good Friday

On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes its gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Good Friday, in the veneration of the Cross, in the chanting of the 'Reproaches', in the reading of the Passion, and in receiving the pre-consecrated Host, we unite ourselves to our Saviour, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord.

The liturgical observance of this day of Christ's suffering, crucifixion and death evidently has been in existence from the earliest days of the Church. No Mass is celebrated on this day, but the service of Good Friday is called the Mass of the Pre-sanctified because communion which

had already been consecrated on Holy Thursday is given to the faithful. We can see that the parts of the Good Friday service correspond to the divisions of Mass:

The liturgy of the Word - reading of the Passion.
The intercessory prayers for the Church and the entire world, Christian and non-Christian.
Veneration of the Cross
Communion, or the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified.
Some churches hold prayer services during the three hours of Christ's suffering on the Cross. It would be appropriate to observe a period of silence at home, for devotional reading and private prayer for example no radio, television, especially between the hours of noon and three o'clock in the afternoon.

The Cross

In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Lent is a particularly appropriate time to attempt to penetrate the true meaning of this sacred image through prayerful contemplation; and to study the traditions surrounding the Christian symbol of the Cross. Looking at the Cross in prayer helps us truly to see it. It is fitting that Christians glorify the Cross as a sign of Christ's resurrection and victory over sin and death. But we should remember each time we see a cross that the Cross of Jesus' crucifixion was an emblem of physical anguish and personal defilement, not triumph of debasement and humiliation, not glory of degradation and shame, not beauty. It was a means of execution, like a gallows or a gas chamber. What the Son of God endured for us was the depth of ugliness and humiliation. We need to be reminded of the tremendous personal cost of love. As Lent advances we contemplate the redeeming Mystery of the Cross which aids the Church in her pursuit of the renewal of the faithful. The Sign of the Cross is a visible sign of one's belief in Christ and of one's hope in the redemption which flows from His Cross. Accompanied by the invocation of the Trinity (Doxology), "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", making a sign of the cross is a simple and beautiful form of Christian devotion. By making this sign both in public and in private we affirm our faith in Christ crucified and ask for His blessing and protection. It is also a gesture of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament.

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday (in Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum), the day of the entombed Christ,' is the Lord's Day of rest, for on that day Christ's body lay in His tomb. We recall the Apostle's Creed which says “He descended unto the dead.” It is a day of suspense between two worlds, that of darkness, sin and death, and that of the Resurrection and the restoration of the Light of the World. For this reason no divine services are held until the Easter Vigil at night. Ideally, Holy Saturday should be the quietest day of the year. Nightfall on Holy Saturday is time for joy and greatest expectation because of the beautiful liturgy of the Easter Vigil, often referred to as the Mother of all Holy Vigils, or the Great Service of Light. As with Christmas, the secular aspects of the Easter season threaten to overwhelm its religious significance. And as in Advent, which is a penitential season also, the solemnity of the events we celebrate during Holy Week risk being obscured by the advance preparations which we may make for the joyous celebration of Easter. As Catholics, we need to keep this in mind, and not put out the Easter decorations before Easter. Holy Week and especially the Triduum. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday are so rich with meaning that we must be careful not to lose any of it, and to make our observances fit the solemnity or the celebration. By any festive celebration, Easter is our greatest cause of rejoicing. Take advantage and follow keenly all preparation.

The Easter Vigil

The night vigil of Easter signifies Christ's passage from the dead to the living by the liturgy which begins in darkness “sin, death” and is enlightened by the fire and the candle representing Lumen Christi ‘the Light of Christ’ just as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the community of believers, is led from spiritual darkness to the light of His truth. Christ's baptism, which our own baptism imitates, is represented during the liturgy by the blessing of the water of baptism by immersing the candle representing His Body into the font. During the liturgy we recall God's sparing of the Hebrews whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb; we are sprinkled with the blessed water by which we were cleansed from original sin through Christ's sacrifice, and we repeat our baptismal vows, renouncing Satan and all his works. We rejoice at Christ's bodily resurrection from the darkness of the tomb; and we pray for our passage from death into eternal life, from sin into grace, from the weariness and infirmity of old age to the freshness and vigour of youth, from the anguish of the Cross to peace and unity with God, and from this sinful world unto the Father in heaven.

Easter Day and Easter Season

With these joyous words Christians have greeted one another on Easter Day for nearly two thousand years. And every Easter the words proclaim anew the faith and hope of every Christian in the Good News of God's profound love of mankind, a love which conquers death. Whenever Christians greet one another with these exultant phrases we affirm the unity of believers throughout all times and ages until He comes again in glory. Every Christian family can establish the custom of exchanging this historic greeting, which is also a profession of faith, on Easter morning. It would set an appropriate tone of rejoicing for the entire day. Mass on Easter Day is the most splendid and exuberant celebration of the Church. For this is the Sunday of Sundays, the day of Resurrection of Christ, the centre and foundation of our faith. As St. Paul said, “If Christ has not risen, then your faith is vain” 1 Cor. 15:14, 17. Thus Easter is the pinnacle of all feasts of the Church year which began with Advent, or the expectation of the coming of the Messiah, sent by God to provide the means for our Salvation. The culmination of the entire liturgy is the Easter feast. Families who attend Mass on Easter Day join millions of Christians all over the world, past and present in joyous affirmation of our redemption through the love of Christ, our hope of salvation, and our faith in the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. Although the Easter Vigil and Mass fulfils the obligation for Easter Mass, the Easter Day celebration is a highlight that many will not want to miss, and it is permissible to attend both.


Every element of the festive celebration of Mass on Easter Day resounds with the great Alleluia; the triumphant word of praise for God of men and angels. Alleluia (or hallelujah) is a Hebrew word adopted by the Christian Church. Another familiar Hebrew word is amen, ‘so be it’ Hallel is the greatest expression of praise in Hebrew. Combined with Jah, the shortened form of the name of God, JHVH meaning ‘I AM’, it becomes Hallelujah. Alleluia is a Latinized spelling.

The Lord's Day

Every Sunday is a celebration of the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection. Every celebration of Mass commemorates all the Easter Mysteries, the Lord's Supper at which Christ instituted the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection, the historic events on which Christianity is based. And each Sunday celebrates the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (fifty days after Easter) which established the Church. Every Sunday, then, is a “little Easter”. Every Sunday is Christ's feast day. This is why the Sundays during Lent are excluded from the forty days of penance; why no saints' feast days on the Church's calendar are celebrated on Sunday; and, likewise, why no funeral Masses may be conducted on the Lord's Day. All Catholics are seriously obliged to participate in the Church's celebration of Mass on Sundays.

Octave of Easter and Paschal Tide

The celebration of the feast of Easter, like that of all great feasts of the Church, continues for eight days, or an octave. During the week following Easter Sunday various post-resurrection appearances of Christ are celebrated in the liturgy. The Octave ends on the first Sunday after

Easter, which is known as Low Sunday. This name is apparently intended to convey the contrast between this day and the great Easter festival which preceded it, as well as to indicate that, as the Octave Day, it is part of the Easter feast but in a lower degree. This Sunday is also known as

"Dominica in albis depositis," in reference to the fact that those who had been baptized on Easter Eve laid aside their white baptismal robes for the first time on this day. The time from the end of the Octave of Easter to the eighth day after Pentecost is called Paschal Tide. The two great feasts celebrated during this time are Ascension and Pentecost.

Feast of the Ascension

The feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday, commemorating the Ascension of Christ into Heaven and His completion of the work of our redemption. The liturgy on this day celebrates the entry of Christ into heaven with our human nature glorified, and the pledge of our glorification with Him. In the past processions outside the church were held on this day to imitate Christ's leading the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Olives, and to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven. After the Gospel on this day the Paschal Candle is extinguished.


Pentecost, from the Greek word for ‘fiftieth’, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles fifty days after the Resurrection. It is also called Whitsunday. This feast is very ancient, dating back to the first century. The Vespers Hymn for this feast is the Veni, Creator Spiritus ‘Come, Creator Spirit’ and the sequence for the Mass is the Veni sancte Spiritus “Come, Holy Spirit”. Red vestments are worn to commemorate the love of the Holy Spirit, or to represent the tongues of fire. Throughout the Easter Season, the Regina Coeli/Queen of Heaven” is said as the mealtime Angelus prayer.

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