Lent Begins on Ash Wednesday. Here is a User’s Guide to Lent (Along with Some Little-Known Facts)

Lent, a period of spiritual preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday, March 2.

During Lent, Catholics focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which means donating to the poor and performing other acts of charity.

“Throughout this Sacred Season,” said Bishop Alfred Schlert in his Lenten Pastoral Letter, “I invite you to be intentional about spending time with Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, His Real Presence.

“Thank Him for the blessings in your life and lay before Him the burdens that weigh you down,” the Bishop said. “Ask Him to help you carry these crosses. Please use Lent as an opportunity to make a good confession acknowledging where you have failed and asking for His Mercy.”

Here is a guide to Lent:

Fasting – Those between the ages of 18 and 59 (the obligation ends when you begin your 60th year on the day of your 59th birthday) are allowed to eat one full meal, and two lighter meals not equal to another full meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Abstinence – Everyone 14 and older is required to avoid eating meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays during Lent. Catholics also are encouraged to refrain from pleasures in a spirit of penance.

Almsgiving – Catholics are asked to focus more intently during Lent on "almsgiving," which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.

Ashes – The ashes placed on our forehead in the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday are a visible symbol and spiritual reminder of the beginning of Lent. Made from the burning of last year’s palms, the ashes are a call to repentance and a sign that we are sinners in need of forgiveness.

Ember Days – Bishop Schlert has asked the clergy and faithful of the Diocese to celebrate Ember Days on March 9, March 11, and March 12. Ember Days are marked through fasting and abstinence, and through prayer in gratitude for the blessings of the season and human labor.

Here are a couple of little-known facts to liven up your next discussion of Lent with family and friends:

Lent is not really 40 days. When the Church designated a season of prayer and penance to mirror Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert before His public ministry, it set aside six full weeks, Monday through Saturday (Sundays are not part of Lent) plus Ash Wednesday and the three days that follow, for a total of 40 days. But Lent ends just prior to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, when the Easter Triduum begins, so Lent does not last the full 40 days.

One Friday in Lent is not an abstinence day. Church Law makes an exception to the abstinence obligation for solemnities that fall on a Friday. This year, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, is Friday, March 25. It’s okay to eat meat on that day.


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