Will this Lent be like any other, or will it be the Lent when everything changes? Lent doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, momentous, or singular, but LENT HAS TO BE FOR HIM! Why? Because He prayed for YOU! He fasted for YOU! He was tempted for YOU! He suffered for YOU! He bled for YOU! He died, giving the alms of His very flesh and life for YOU!
“Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured…he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins,
Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” Isaiah 53:4a,5
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Our lives change when our habits change!
-Matthew Kelly, Dynamic Catholic
Will you and I give ourselves FOR HIM by laying them down for one another, especially the poor and downtrodden?!? Will you and I carry our cross with Him this Lent to be raised up that many enter heaven?!?
Peace and prayers in Jesus through Mary, loved by Saint Joseph,
P.S. Lenten Regulations, Ash Wednesday explanation, Today’s Readings, Pope Francis's Lenten Message, and a Lenten Meditation are found below.
P.S.S. ASH WEDNESDAY IS A DAY OF FASTING AND ABSTINENCE (see Lenten Regulations).
THIS COMING FRIDAY IS A DAY OF ABSTINENCE.
P.S.S.S. Lenten Workshop Website
Homily from Ash Wednesday 2007 (9 minutes):
“By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
-Catechism of the Catholic Church #540
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Our lives change when our habits change!
-Matthew Kelly, Dynamic Catholic
The Christian faithful are to do penance through prayer, fasting, abstinence and by exercising works of piety and charity. All Fridays through the year, and especially during Lent, are penitential days. (“Piety” is the moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service He deserves.)
All who 14 years of age or older are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, on all Fridays during Lent and on Good Friday. (On other Fridays of the years, Catholics may substitute a work of penance or charity (i.e. extra prayers said for those in need; visiting or assisting the sick, poor, or needy; etc.) or abstain from meat.
All those who are 18 years of age and older, until their 59th birthday, are to fast on Ash Wednesday (March 6) and Good Friday (April 19). Only one full meatless meal is allowed on days of fast. Light sustenance on two other occasions, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one's needs. But together, these two occasions are not to equal a full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed.
The obligation does not apply to those whose health or ability to work would be seriously affected. People in doubt about fast or abstinence should consult a parish priest. The obligation does not apply to military personnel in deployed or hostile environments in which they have no control over meals.
To conscientiously disregard or purposely fail to observe the regulations of fasting and abstinence is seriously sinful (that is, an area of mortal sin).
Catholics are bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year (Canon 989). Lent is an appropriate time to fulfill this obligation.
After having received their First Holy Communion, all the faithful (all Catholics) are bound by the obligation of receiving Holy Communion at least once a year. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season, unless for a good reason it is fulfilled at another time during the year. This obligation may be fulfilled between March 10 (First Sunday in Lent) and June 16 (Most Holy Trinity Sunday).
The distribution of Ashes should take place in a sacred place such as a church or a chapel. The Order for the Distribution of Ashes provides that ashes should be distributed:
· 1. During Mass following the homily
· 2. At a (Catholic) Service of the Word
The Minister for Distribution of Blessed Ashes is a priest, a deacon, or a Catholic lay person.
On this day the Church invites us to receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads as a sign that during the coming days of Lent we will make a sincere effort to cleanse our lives of sin and to discipline ourselves through prayer and fasting. Ashes are used because it is an outward sign of repentance and mourning. Repenting and mourning in ashes is found in the Holy Bible in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21. Ashes are also reminiscent of dust, of which God speaks in the Holy Bible speaks, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Thus, ashes also are a reminder of our mortality, that we will all one day die.
Who May Receive Ashes?
Baptized individuals who have reached the age of reason. Babies and young children who have not yet received the Sacrament of Penance should not be presented to receive ashes since ashes are generally intended for those who are capable of personal sin. The observance of Ash Wednesday is intended to lead the baptized members of the Church to repentance and renewal of baptismal promises at Easter.
"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the LORD, your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'” Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.
Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17
R. (see 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
2 Cor 5:20—6:2
Brothers and sisters:
We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ's victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God "with all their hearts" (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.
1. The other person is a gift
The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.
The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.
2. Sin blinds us
The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called "a rich man". His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: "He feasted sumptuously every day" (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).
The Apostle Paul tells us that "the love of money is the root of all evils" (1 Tim 6:10). It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.
The parable then shows that the rich man's greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62).
The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.
Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: "No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money" (Mt 6:24).
3. The Word is a gift
The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return". As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that "we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it" (1 Tim 6:7).
We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls "father" (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God's people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.
The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: "During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony" (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life's evils are balanced by good.
The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: "They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them" (v. 29). Countering the rich man's objections, he adds: "If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead" (v. 31).
The rich man's real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God's word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God's word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.
Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God's word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favour the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.
From the Vatican, 4 October 2018
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
Grant us, Lord, to begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service
that, as we fight against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with the weapons of self restraint.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
On the Via Dolorosa with MaryAsh Wednesday is the first day of Lent when the Catholic Church charges us to put on the mantle of penitence for forty days and forty nights through the Passion and Death of Jesus in preparation for his glorious Resurrection. We receive ashes to remind us of the temporary vessels that we are.
According to tradition, after Jesus died, Mary used to visit those places where her Son shed his blood (the Way of the Cross or Via Dolorosa which means road of suffering). She meditated on Christ's suffering by following in his footsteps. Later, other faithful followers of Jesus did the same. For centuries people would go in pilgrimage to visit the holy places, making all the stops or stations on the Way of the Cross.
The Passion and Death of Jesus was the greatest expression of his love for us, since it is by his suffering and death that he saved us from the slavery of sin, and by his resurrection that he confirmed the promise of our own resurrection.
adapted from material of James Akin
A: Historically, Lent is the forty day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving before Easter, excluding Sundays; it began on Ash Wednesday and ended on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). In recent years, this has been modified so that it now ends with evening Mass on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter Sunday), to prepare the way for Triduum (the three final days leading up to and including Easter Sunday.
Q: Why are the forty days called Lent?
A: They are called Lent because that is the Old English word for spring, the season of the year during which they fall. This is something unique to English. In almost all other languages its name is a derivative of the Latin term Quadragesima, or "the forty days."
Q: Why is Lent forty days long?
A: Because forty days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible. Thus Moses stayed on the Mountain of God forty days (Exodus 24:18 and 34:28), the spies were in the land for forty days (Numbers 13:25), Elijah traveled forty days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kings 19:8), Nineveh was given forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4), and most importantly, prior to undertaking his ministry, Jesus spent forty days in wilderness praying and fasting (Matthew 4:2).
Since Lent is a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting for Christians to imitate their Lord with a forty day period. Christ used a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for his ministry, which culminated in his death and resurrection, and thus it is fitting for Christians to imitate him with a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of his ministry's climax, Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (the day of the resurrection).
Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church (a book explaining her teachings) states:
"'For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning' [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert." (CCC 540).
In the 7th century, the Church added Ash Wednesday and the following three days to make it 40 days of fasting with Sundays being exempt from Lenten practices, though the entire time is the season of Lent.
Q: Why are Sundays excluded from the reckoning of the forty days?
A: Because Sunday is the day on which Christ rose from the dead, making it an inappropriate day to fast and mourn our sins. On Sunday we must celebrate Christ's resurrection for our salvation. It is Friday on which we commemorate his death for our sins. The Sundays of the year are days of celebration and the Fridays of the year are days of penance.
Q: When does Lent begin?
A: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is the day on which the faithful have their foreheads signed with ashes in the form of a Cross (see piece on Ash Wednesday). It is also a day of fast (eating less than usual) and abstinence (eating no meat). [The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is sometimes called Mardi Gras, ‘Fat Tuesday,’ because some have made it a tradition to finish up excess food and treats since they will not be able to partake of such celebration until Lent ends.
Q: What is Ash Wednesday, and why is it different each year?
Ash Wednesday is the first day and beginning of Lent. It is called “Ash” Wednesday, because the minister will lightly rub ashes in the sign of a cross onto the forehead of those who gather and come forward. [In many European countries, ashes are sprinkled on the head.] Ashes are used because it is an outward sign of repentance and mourning. Repenting and mourning in ashes is found in the Holy Bible in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21. Ashes are also reminiscent of dust, of which God speaks in the Holy Bible speaks, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Ash Wednesday is also a day of fast and abstinence (no meat) for Catholics.
The date of Ash Wednesday depends on the date of Easter. The date of Easter is calculated as being the Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. Since ecclesiastical (Church) calculators always consider March 21 the date of the equinox, the earliest Easter can be is March 22 and the latest is April 25. If Easter occurs on March 22, Ash Wednesday is on February 4 (as it last was in 1818 and will again be in 2285). If Easter occurs on April 25, Ash Wednesday is on March 10 (as it last was in 1943 and will again be in 2038).
Q: Aside from Ash Wednesday, which begins Lent, what are its principal events?
A: There are a variety of saints' days which fall during Lent, and some of these change from year to year since the dates of Lent itself change based on when Easter falls. However, the Sundays during the Lenten season commemorate special events in the life of Our Lord, such as his Transfiguration and his Triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. Holy week climaxes with Holy Thursday, on which Christ celebrated the first Mass, Good Friday, on which he was Crucified, and Holy Saturday -- the last day of Lent -- during which Our Lord lay in the Tomb before his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the first day after Lent.
Q: What is a day of fast and abstinence?
A: Under current Church law in the Western Rite of the Church, a day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast. In this country, one may eat a single, normal meal and have two snacks if necessary, so long as these snacks do not add up to a second meal. Children are not required to fast, but their parents are to ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting. Those with medical conditions requiring a greater or more regular food intake can easily be dispensed from the requirement of fasting by their pastor.
A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years or older are required to abstain from eating meat (under the current discipline in America, fish, eggs, milk products, and condiments or foods made using animal fat are permitted in the Western Rite of the Church, though not in the Eastern Rites.) Again, persons with special dietary needs can easily be dispensed by their pastor.
Q: Is there a biblical basis for abstaining from meat as a sign of repentance?
A: Yes. The book of Daniel states:
"In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . 'I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.'" (Daniel 10:1-3)
Q: Isn't abstaining from meat one of the "doctrines of demons" Paul warned about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5?
A: Short answer: Not unless Daniel was practicing a doctrine of demons.
Long answer: When Paul warned of those who "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods" he has in mind people with the Manichean belief that marital relations is wrong and certain foods, like meat, are intrinsically immoral. (Thus, the spiritual ideal for many modern New Agers is a celibate vegetarian, as in the Eastern religions.)
We know that Paul has in mind those who teach marital relations and certain foods are intrinsically immoral because he tells us that these are "foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4:3b-5).
Marital relations and all kinds of food are good things (which is why the Catholic Church has Marriage for a sacrament and heartily recommends the practice of eating to its members), and this is precisely why it is fitting for them to be given up as part of a spiritual discipline. Thus Daniel gave up meat (as well as wine, another symbol of rejoicing) and Paul endorses the practice of temporary celibacy to engage in a special spiritual discipline of increased prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5). By giving up good things and denying them to ourselves we encourage an attitude of humility, free ourselves from dependence on them, cultivate the spiritual discipline of being willing to make personal sacrifices, and remind ourselves of the importance of spiritual goods over earthly goods.
In fact, if there was an important enough purpose, Paul recommended permanently giving up marriage and meat. Thus, he himself was celibate (1 Corinthians 7:8), he recommended the same for ministers (2 Timothy 2:3-4), and he recommended it for the unmarried so they can devote themselves more fully to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34) unless doing so would subject them to great temptations (1 Cointhians 7:9). Similarly, he recommended giving up meat permanently if it would prevent others from sinning (1 Corinthians 8:13).
Thus Paul certainly had nothing against celibacy or giving up meat -- even on a permanent basis -- so long as one wasn't saying that these things are intrinsically evil, which is what he was condemning the "doctrines of demons" passage.
Since the Catholic Church only requires abstinence from meat on a temporary basis, it clearly does not regard meat as immoral. Instead, it regards it as the giving up of a good thing (which in less economically developed regions -- including the whole world until very recently -- was expensive and thus eaten at festive occasions, making it a sign of rejoicing) to attain a spiritual goal.
Q: On what basis does the Church have the authority to establish days of fast and abstinence?
A: On the authority of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told the leaders of his Church, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). The language of binding and loosing (in part) was a rabinnic way of referring to the ability to establish binding halakah or rules of conduct for the faith community. It is thus especially appropriate that the references to binding and loosing occur in Matthew, the "Jewish Gospel." Thus the Jewish Encyclopedia states:
"BINDING AND LOOSING (Hebrew, asar ve-hittir) . . . Rabinnical term for 'forbidding and permitting.' . . .
"The power of binding and loosing as always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees, says Josephus (Wars of the Jews 1:5:2), 'became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind.' . . . The various schools had the power 'to bind and to loose'; that is, to forbid and to permit (Talmud: Chagigah 3b); and they could also bind any day by declaring it a fast-day ( . . . Talmud: Ta'anit 12a . . . ). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age of the Sanhedrin, received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, 9; Talmud: Makkot 23b).
"In this sense Jesus, when appointing his apostles to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt. 16:19, 18:18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who 'bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers'; that is 'loose them,' as they have the power to do (Matt. 23:2-4). In the same sense the second epistle of Clement to James II ('Clementine Homilies,' Introduction [A.D. 221]), Peter is represented as having appointed Clement as his successor, saying: 'I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing so that, with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens; for he shall bind what ought to be bound and loose what ought to be loosed as knowing the rule of the Church.'" (Jewish Encyclopedia 3:215).
Thus Jesus invested the leaders of this Church with the power of making halakah for the Christian community. This includes the setting of fast days (like Ash Wednesday).
To approach the issue from another angle, every family has the authority to establish particular family devotions for its members. Thus if the parents decide that the family will engage in a particular devotion at a particular time (say, Bible reading after supper), it is a sin for the children to disobey and skip the devotion for no good reason. In the same way, the Church as the family of God has the authority to establish its own family devotion, and it is a sin for the members of the Church to disobey and skip the devotions for no good reason (though of course if the person has a good reason, the Church dispenses him immediately).
Q: In addition to Ash Wednesday, are any other days during Lent days of fast or abstinence?
A: Yes. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence (no meat). Also, Good Friday, the day on which Christ was crucified, is another day of both fast and abstinence.
All days in Lent are appropriate for fasting or abstaining, but canon law does not require fasting on those days. Such fasting or abstinence is voluntary, like a freewill offering.
Q: Why are Fridays during Lent days of abstinence (no meat)?
A: This is because Jesus died for our sins on Friday, making it an especially appropriate day of mourning our sins (just as Sunday, the day on which he rose for our salvation is an especially appropriate day to rejoice) by denying ourselves something we enjoy. During the rest of the year Catholics in this country are permitted to use a different act of penance on Friday in place of abstinence, though all Fridays are days of penance on which we are required to do something expressing sorrow for our sins, just as Sundays are holy days on which we are required to worship and celebrate God's great gift of salvation.
Q: Why do we ‘abstain’ from meat on Fridays? And why can we eat fish?
Some reasoning is that since the Flesh of Christ died on the Cross, we mourn this reality by refraining from meat. Also, meat is traditionally considered feasting, so it is not eaten during a time of penance. We do this on Fridays, since Jesus died on a Friday.
Fish is eaten because it is not a beast of the field and does not ‘chew its cud,’ thus separating it from regular meat associations.
Q: Why do we ‘fast’ on certain days in Lent and encouraged to do so throughout the year?
Many persons and peoples in the Bible would fast in preparation and purification for special moments, even for war. Jesus himself fasted. He also said, “some evil spirits can only be driven out with prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29) Denying ourselves food, the most primal and powerful drive within us, opens us up to God and others and strengthens us to do the difficult things of life.
Q: Are acts of repentance appropriate on other days during Lent?
A: Yes. Thus the Code of Canon Law (Church Law) states:
"All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and time throughout the universal Church" (CIC 1250).
Q: Why are acts of repentance appropriate at this time of year?
A: Because it is the time leading up to the commemoration of Our Lord's death for our sins and the commemoration of his resurrection for our salvation. It is thus especially appropriate to mourn the sins for which he died. Humans have an innate psychological need to mourn tragedies, and our sins are tragedies of the greatest sort. Due to our fallen nature (original sin from Adam and Eve), humans also have a need to have set times in which to engage in behavior (which is why we have Sundays as a set time to rest and worship, since we would otherwise be likely to forget to devote sufficient time to rest and worship), it is appropriate to have set times of repentance. Lent is one of those set times.
Q: What are some appropriate things to do during Lent?
Giving up something we enjoy for Lent, doing of physical or spiritual acts of mercy for others, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, abstinence (no meat), confessing our sins, and other acts expressing repentance in general.
Q: Is the custom of giving up something for Lent mandatory?
A: No. However, it is a salutary (beneficial, healthy) custom, and parents or caretakers may choose to require it of their children to encourage their spiritual training, which is their prime responsibility in the raising of their children.
Q: Since Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent, does the custom of giving up something apply to them?
A: Customarily, no. However, since the giving up of something is voluntary to begin with, there is no official rule concerning this aspect of it. Nevertheless, since Sundays are days of celebration, it is appropriate to suspend the Lenten self-denial on them that, in a spiritual and non-excessive way, we may celebrate the day of Our Lord's resurrection so that that day and that event may be contrasted with the rest of the days of Lent and the rest of the events of history. This heightened contrast deepens the spiritual lessons taught by the rest of Lent.
Q: Why is giving up something for Lent such a salutary custom?
A: By denying ourselves something we enjoy, we discipline our wills so that we are not slaves to our pleasures. Just as indulging the pleasure of eating leads to physical flabbiness and, if this is great enough, an inability to perform in physically demanding situations, indulging in pleasure in general leads to spiritual flabbiness and, if this is great enough, an inability to perform in spiritual demanding situations, when the demands of morality require us to sacrifice something pleasurable (such as marital relations before marriage or not within the confines of marriage) or endure hardship (such as being scorned or persecuted for the faith). By disciplining the will to refuse pleasures when they are not sinful, a habit is developed which allows the will to refuse pleasures when they are sinful. There are few better ways to keep one's priorities straight than by periodically denying ourselves things of lesser priority to show us that they are not necessary and so to focus our attention on what is necessary.
Q: Is the denying of pleasure an end in itself?
A: No. It is only a means to an end. By training ourselves to resist temptations when they are not sinful, we train ourselves to reject temptations when they are sinful. We also express our sorrow over having failed to resist sinful temptations in the past.
Q: Is there such a thing as denying ourselves too many pleasures?
A: Most definitely. First, God made human life contingent on certain goods, such as food, and to refuse to enjoy enough of them has harmful consequences. For example, if we do not eat enough food it can cause physical damage or (in the extreme, even death). Just as there is a balance between eating too much food and not eating enough food, there is a balance involved in other goods.
Second, if we do not strike the right balance and deny ourselves goods God meant us to have then it can generate resentment toward God, which is a spiritual sin just as much as those of engaging in excesses of good things. Thus, one can be led into sin either by excess or by defect in the enjoyment of good things.
Third, it can decrease our effectiveness in ministering to others.
Fourth, it can deprive us of the goods God gave us in order that we might praise Him.
Fifth, it constitutes the sin of ingratitude by refusing to enjoy the things God wanted us to have because He loves us. If a child refused every gift his parent gave him, it would displease the parent, and if we refuse gifts God has given us, it displeases God because he loves us and wants us to have them.
Q: Is that balance the same for all people?
A: No. For example, with the good of food, people who are by nature physically larger need more food than people who are physically smaller. Similarly, people who have higher metabolisms or who do manual labor for a living need more food than people with slower metabolisms or who have less active lifestyles. The same is true with regard to other goods than food. St. Paul speaks of this in regard to the good of married life:
"I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Thus, some are given the gift of being able to live without the good of married life in order that they may pursue greater devotion to God (1 Cor. 7:32-34) or to pursue greater ministry for others (2 Timothy 2:3-4), as with priests, monks, and nuns. God gives these people special graces to live the life which they have embraced, just as he gives special graces to the married to live the life they have embraced.
OFFICE FOR THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF Presents
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
In the Christian West few pious practices are as loved as the Way of the Cross, a devotion which recalls with mindful affection the last stage of the journey that Jesus walked in his earthly life: from when he and his disciples, « after psalms had been sung, left for the Mount of Olives» (Mk 14, 26), until the Lord was taken to the « place called Golgotha, The Skull » (Mk 15, 22), to be crucified and then buried in a garden nearby, in a new tomb hewn out of the rock.
A way traced by the Spirit
The life of Jesus is a journey traced by the Spirit: at the beginning of the mission the Spirit leads him into the desert (cf. Lk 4, 1); and then, as a divine fire burning in his breast, drives him to walk the way to Calvary (cf. Lk 12, 49-50).
The last stage of the journey is unspeakably hard and painful. The evangelists lingered, although with moderation, over the description of the Way of the Cross which the Son of God and Son of man walked out of love for the Father and for humanity. Each step of Jesus is one step closer to the accomplishment of the plan of salvation: to the hour of universal forgiveness (cf. Lk 23, 34), the pierced Heart – the opening of an inextinguishable fountain of grace - (cf. Jn 19, 34), the immolation of the true Paschal Lamb, of whom not one bone will be broken (cf. Jn 19, 36), the gift of the Mother (cf. Jn 19, 26-27) and of the Spirit (cf. Mt 27, 50). Every new suffering of Jesus is a seed of future joy for humanity, every jeer, a premise of glory. Along that way of suffering Jesus' every meeting - with friends, with enemies, with the indifferent - is a chance for one final lesson, one last look, one supreme offer of reconciliation and peace.
A Way loved by the Church
The Church has always kept alive the memory of the words and the events of the last days of her Spouse and Lord, a loving although painful memory of the path Jesus walked from the Mount of Olives to the Mount of Calvary. The Church knows in fact that in every episode which happened on that Way lies hidden a mystery of grace, a gesture of his love for her. The Church is aware that in the Eucharist her Lord left her the objective, sacramental memory of the Body broken and the Blood shed on the hill of Golgotha. However she also loves the historical memory of the places where Christ suffered, the streets and the stones bathed in his sweat and in his blood.
The Church in Jerusalem showed her love for the « holy places » very early on. Archaeological findings prove the existence of expressions of Christian worship in the burial grounds where the tomb used for Christ had been hewn out of the rock, as early as the second century. At the end of the fourth century a pilgrim woman named Aetheria tells us of three holy buildings on the hill of Golgotha: the Anastasis, the little church ad Crucem, and the great church – the Martyrium (cf. Peregrinatio Etheriae 30). And she describes a procession from the Anastasis to the Martyrium which took place on certain days. This was certainly not a Way of the Cross or a Via Dolorosa, nor was thevia sacra, a sort of walking tour of the shrines in Jerusalem, alluded to in various chronicles written by pilgrims of the fifth and sixth centuries. However that procession, with its chanting of psalms and close connection with the places of the Passion, is considered by some scholars an embryonic form of the future Way of the Cross.
Jerusalem is the city of the historical Way of the Cross. It is the only city with this great, tragic privilege. In the Middle Ages the attraction of the « holy places » gave rise to a desire to reproduce them locally: some pilgrims on returning from Jerusalem reproduced them in their own city. The Seven Churches of the Santo Stefano complex inBologna are considered the most remarkable example of these « reproductions ».
A medieval devotion
The Way of the Cross, as we understand the term today, dates to the late Middle Ages. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (+ 1153), Saint Francis of Assisi (+ 1226) and Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (+ 1274), with their loving, contemplative devotion, prepared the ground on which the devout practice was to develop.
To a spirit of compassionate devotion for the mystery of the Passion we must add the enthusiasm aroused by the Crusades launched to regain possession of the Holy Sepulchre, a new flourishing of pilgrimages from the twelfth century onwards, and, from 1233, the stable presence of the Franciscan Friars minor in the Holy Places.
Towards the end of the thirteenth century we find mention of the Stations of the Cross, not yet as a pious practice, but as the path which Jesus walked on his way up toMount Calvary marked by a series of « stations ».
Around 1294 the Dominican friar Rinaldo de Monte Crucis, in his Liber peregrinationis, tells how he went up to the Holy Sepulchre «per viam, per quam ascendit Christus, baiulans sibi crucem », describing the different stations: Herod's Palace, the Lithostratos, where Jesus was condemned to death, the place where Jesus met the women of Jerusalem, the place where Simon of Cyrene shouldered the Lord's cross, and so forth.
Against the a background of devotion to the Passion of Christ, and recalling the path Jesus walked on his ascent to Mount Calvary, The Stations of the Cross as a pious practice was born directly from a sort of fusion of three devotions which spread mainly in Germany and in the Netherlands from the fifteenth century onwards:
- devotion to «Christ's falls » beneath the cross; as many as seven were numbered;
- devotion to « Christ's way of sorrow», which involved making a procession from one church to the next in memory of the way of sorrow - seven, nine and even more -, which Christ walked during his passion: from Gethsemane to the house of Annas (cf. Jn 18, 13), from the latter to the house of Caiaphas (cf. Jn 18, 24; Mt 26, 56), then on to the Praetorium of Pilate (cf. Jn 18, 28; Mt 27, 2), to the palace of King Herod (cf. Lk 23, 7) ...;
- devotion to the «the stations of Christ», to the moments when Jesus stops on his journey to the hill of Calvary either because he is forced to do so by his executioners or because he is exhausted from fatigue, or because, moved by love, he is still anxious to establish a dialogue with the men and the women who participate in his passion; often « sorrowful ways » and « stations » correspond in number and subject (each « way » concludes with a « station ») and the latter are marked with a column or a cross on which the scene, the subject of meditation, is at times depicted.
Variety of the Stations
In the long formation process of The Way of the Cross two elements should be noted: the fluctuation of the « First Station » and the variety of Stations.
With regard to the earliest Stations of the Cross, historians record at least four episodes chosen as the «First Station »:
- Jesus takes leave of his Mother; this « First Station » would appear to have been less popular, probably due to its difficult biblical grounding;
- The Washing of the Feet; this « First Station », set in the event of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, is found in some Stations of the Cross of the second half of the seventeenth century, which were very popular;
- The Agony in Gethsemane, the Garden of Olives, where in last loving obedience to the Father Jesus chooses to drink the chalice of his Passion to the last drop, was the initial Station of a brief seventeenth century set of Stations of the Cross - consisting of only seven -, noteworthy for its biblical rigour, and popularised principally by members of the Society of Jesus;
- The condemnation of Jesus in the Praetorium of Pilate, a rather early « First Station » which effectively marks the beginning of the final stage of Jesus' sorrowful way: from the Praetorium to the Hill of Calvary.
The subject of the stations also varied. In the fifteenth century great diversity in the choice, number and order of stations still prevailed. Some schemas of Way of the Crossinclude stations such as the capture of Jesus, Peter's denial, the scourging at the pillar, the defamatory accusations at the house of Caiaphas, the mockery of the white robe at Herod's palace, none of which are found in what was to become the textus receptus of the pious practice.
The traditional form
The Way of the Cross or Via Crucis, in its present form, with the same fourteen stations placed in the same order, is recorded in Spain in the first half of the seventeenth century especially in Franciscan communities. From the Iberian peninsula it spread first to Sardinia, at that time under the dominion of the Spanish crown and then to Italy. Here it found a convinced and effective apostle in Saint Leonard of Port Maurice (+ 1751), a friar minor and a tireless missionary; he personally erected more than 572 Via Crucis, including the famous one erected inside the Colosseum at the request of Benedict XIV on 27 December 1750 to commemorate the Holy Year.
The biblical form
Every year on the evening of Good Friday, the Holy Father goes to the Colosseum for the pious practice of the Way of the Cross, joined by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world.
Compared with the traditional text, the biblical Way of the Cross celebrated by the Holy Father at the Colosseum for the first time in 1991 presented certain variants in the «subjects» of the stations. In the light of history, these variants, rather than new, are - if anything - simply rediscovered.
The biblical Way of the Cross omits stations which lack precise biblical reference such as the Lord's three falls (III, V, VII), Jesus' encounter with his Mother (IV) and with Veronica (VI). Instead we have stations such as Jesus' agony in the Garden of Olives (I), the unjust sentence passed by Pilate (V), the promise of paradise to the Good Thief (XI), the presence of the Mother and the Disciple at the foot of the Cross (XIII). Clearly these episodes are of great salvific import and theological significance for the drama of Christ's passion: an ever-present drama in which every man and woman, knowingly or unknowingly, plays a part.
The proposal is not entirely new. Pilgrims arriving in Rome for the Jubilee of 1975 received a small handbook, Libro del pellegrino, prepared by the Central Committee for the Holy Year, which included an alternative version of the Stations of the Cross, with which in part, the 1991 biblical Via Crucis takes up.
Likewise, the Congregation for Divine Worship on various occasions in recent years authorised the use of formulas alternative to the traditional text of the Way of the Cross.
With the biblical Way of the Cross the intention was not to change the traditional text, which remains fully valid, but quite simply to highlight a few «important stations» which in the textus receptus are either absent or in the background. And indeed this only emphasises the extraordinary richness of the Way of the Cross which no schema can ever fully express.
The biblical Way of the Cross sheds light on the tragic role of the various characters involved, and the struggle between light and darkness, between truth and falsehood, which they embody. They all participate in the mystery of the Passion, taking a stance for or against Jesus, the «sign of contradiction» (Lk 2, 34), and thus revealing their hidden thoughts with regard to Christ.
Making the Way of the Cross, we, the followers of Jesus, must declare once more our discipleship: weeping like Peter for sins committed; opening our hearts to faith in Jesus the suffering Messiah, like the Good Thief; remaining there at the foot of the Cross of Christ like the Mother and the Disciple, and there with them receiving the Word which redeems, the Blood which purifies, the Spirit which gives life.
PIERO MARINI, Titular Archbishop of Martirano
Master of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff