Lent is the penitential season before Easter.
It’s a time when we reflect on our Lord’s Passion, and unite ourselves to his suffering.
But how much do you really know about the season of Lent?
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Answers and Explanations
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1. Violet is the Liturgical color for Lent
The priest will wear violet (purple) vestments during the penitential seasons: Advent and Lent.
On one Sunday of each of those seasons, the priest wears rose (pink). This is the color of rejoicing, and it is work towards the end (but not quite AT the end) of the penitential season.
Black may be worn for funerals, or for Masses for the souls in purgatory.
2. The Three Pillars of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, Alsmgiving
The Church encourages Catholics to enter into a life of increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent.
This is where we get the pious practice of “giving up” (fasting) or “taking up” (prayer) something during Lent.
The Church also has days of required fasting and abstinence during Lent.
These three practices can help us defeat the temptations of this life: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Through almsgiving, we practice detachment from the things of this world: money, material goods, or time.
Through fasting, we learn to deny the temptations of the flesh. We practice self-denial. We train our wills to forsake the pleasures of the senses.
Through prayer, we defeat the temptations of the devil. We grow in humility, and in trust in God.
When you consider your Lenten practices, keep in mind these three pillars, as well as the temptations they are meant to strengthen you against.
3. The Reception of Ashes on Ash Wednesday
On Ash Wednesday, we may receive ashes in the shape of a Cross on our foreheads.
The priest will say one of two things:
- Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,
- Repent and believe in the Gospel.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent (in the Latin Rite), and is a day when we are reminded of our mortality.
The ashes symbolize the end of this earthly life.
And in preparation for that, we are called to repent of our sins and turn back to Christ.
This begins the season of prayer and fasting to help us do just that.
4. The “40 Days” of Lent
It’s a common myth that “Sundays don’t count” as part of Lent.
Don’t be fooled!
This is false!
Lent is not a literal 40 days. It’s okay that it doesn’t mathematically add up to exactly 40 days.
And, if you think about it, the Sundays in Lent are called “The First Sunday of Lent,” “The Second Sunday of Lent,” etc. On these Sundays the priest is dressed in – surprise! violet! – the liturgical color of Lent.
Sundays are definitely part of the season of Lent.
In the Bible, the number 40 is often used to symbolize a long time, or the completion of time.
Lent can tend to feel like forever and a day, right?! It’s a symbolic 40, and not an exact calendar 40.
Some people say that since Sundays are not a part of Lent, they can set aside the fasting they took up for Lent on that day. While it’s true that your personal sacrifice is something voluntary, and that you can set it aside as you will, just as you took it up as you will, it’s not because Sundays are part of Lent.
So just keep that in mind!
If you decide not to fast on Sundays, that’s okay. But it’s not because Sundays are any less Lent than the other days.
5. Is the Triduum part of Lent?
This one is new to me.
Lent is the time of preparation for the Lord’s Passion, death, and Resurrection.
During that time, we meditate and pray on these mysteries in preparation for the Triduum: the high point of the liturgical year.
Lent actually ends at the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, on Holy Thursday.
When I stop to think about it, it really does make sense – and I probably should have known this already!
But I always love to learn something new.
As an aside: since the Triduum is NOT part of Lent, it further shows that (even by attempting to exclude Sundays from Lent), it doesn’t add up to a literal 40 days.
6. Fasting during Lent
The required days of fasting during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
That’s only two days! of the entire year!
The laws of fasting state that one meal, plus two smaller “snacks” (that don’t add up to the full meal) may be taken.
Absolutely no eating between these 3 meals!
7. Fasting and Abstinence age requirements
The laws of fasting state that adults from the ages 18-60 are required to fast. Those who are ill, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, or have other medial conditions are exempt.
Abstaining from meat is required on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent. Abstinence is required from the age 14 and older.
8. “Giving up” something for Lent
As we mentioned above (see questions 2 and 4), the practice of giving up (or taking up) something for Lent helps us enter into prayer and fasting.
However, these practices are optional. They are not required by canon law.
So, if you choose to take on extra sacrifices, you may choose to set them aside.
Some people take up their fast during the week, but not on Sunday. This is okay! (again, as it is optional), however it’s not because Sunday isn’t part of Lent.
Further, it’s not a sin to not follow your self-imposed Lenten fast, as it is self-imposed. Unless the thing you’re giving up is something sinful!
Personally, I attempt to stay true to my Lenten fast for the entire duration of Lent. I try not to exempt Sundays. I’m not perfect, of course, but that’s what I strive for.
9. Jesus in the Desert
By the 40 days of Lent, the Church unites herself to the mystery of Jesus fasting in the desert (CCC540).
Jesus fasted in the desert to prepare himself for his ministry, for all he would have to endure.
It’s fitting, then, that we enter into a 40 day period of fasting in preparation to endure the sufferings and fight the temptations in our lives.
On the First Sunday of Lent, we hear the Gospel reading about Jesus fasting in the desert. We learn how he allowed himself to feel hunger.
It’s good to feel that hunger, that desire, that longing for the things that we sacrifice during these 40 days.
When we feel that hunger but continue to deny ourselves of the pleasure of material things, we grow in strength, in self-discipline, in mastery of our will.
And we grow closer to Christ, who will give us the strength to resist temptation.
At the end of his 40 days in the desert, the devil tempted Christ 3 times. Jesus resisted those temptations, and will give us the grace to do the same.
10. Lent is the Old English word for…
It’s ridiculous, I know.
You’d think it would be related to penance, or fasting, or even the 40 days.
In fact, in the Latin (and in most cultures), the word for Lent is quadragesima (or some variation of taht), meaning “40 days.”
In Polish, the word for Lent is “Wielki Post,” meaning “the Great Fast.” This term is commonly used in the Eastern Rites.
But in English, we call it…. Spring.
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