“The journey of Lent is an exodus from slavery to freedom.” Pope Francis
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. This is one of the most important periods of the Liturgical Calendar for Catholics. For forty days we begin our personal and collective preparation for the Passion of Jesus Christ at Easter. It is, therefore, a time of purification and renewal.
Throughout Lent, we are asked to focus on three aspects of Chistian life: fasting, charity and prayer. It is a time when we put particular emphasis on Penance, Reconciliation, Baptism and Conversion.
What happens on Ash Wednesday?
At Mass, the priest draws the sign of the cross on our foreheads using ash. He says, ‘Remember man is dust and unto dust you will return.’
It is a symbol of repentance, as we take up our cross and turn away from our sins, and it is also a reminder of our own mortality. The ash comes from the branches from the previous Palm Sunday. Feel free to wipe away the ash after Mass, however, many Catholics prefer to wear it for the rest of the day.
It is common to hear the question “what are you giving up for Lent?” This relates to the tradition of fasting. Catholics are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday, and again on Good Friday, when we commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. On both days, when we do take a meal, we do not eat meat. Abstinance from meat is also the case each Friday during Lent. If you are younger than 18, and older than 59,or of ill health, you are not expected to fast.
The idea of giving something up is a way of expressing penance for our sins, and it is a sacrifice that we make in gratitude for the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, when he died on the cross for our sake.
Otherwise known as Almsgiving, this is something we are expected to do during Lent. Catholics give our time and money to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is another form of penance, and a demonstration of a sense of fraternity and community as we follow Christ in our lives. We should really do this all year round, but we do it particularly during Lent. This Ash Wednesday, think about how you can be of service to others throughout the forty days of Lent, and beyond.
Through prayer, we deepen our relationship with God. Pope Francis says that prayer is “the secret to making our lives flourish everywhere else.” Catholics are expected to spend more time in prayer during Lent. Ways of observing this could be in saying a daily Rosary, observing the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the Stations of the Cross, or attending Mass every day. This takes spiritual discipline, something Jesus demonstrated as He spent 40 days in the desert after his baptism. Indeed, Lent is forty days long to commemorate this.
This Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday. How will you take up your cross this Lent?
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