How Can Catholics Live An Authentic Lent? A Visual Guide

by Lent

Lent dates back to the 4th century, a time when it began to be observed as a period of penance and renewal for the entire Church through sacrifice, fasting, and abstinence. Although in the West, this time is not as rigorously observed, there has never been any debate that it is a period that we need to approach with a penitential and conversion spirit.

What Is Lent About?

It is about the 40 days leading up to Holy Week during which we prepare our spirit through conversion. The 40 days correspond to a biblical symbolism: 40 days in the desert, 40 days of the flood, 40 years of the Israelites’ journey, etc. The number 40 holds a special significance in the scriptures and refers to times of trial and conversion. In this symbolism, “the number 4 represents the material universe, and the 0 represents the time of our life on earth followed by trials and difficulties” (Aciprensa).

A Path Of Conversion

t is not a time in which I simply, out of tradition, cannot eat meat or have to give alms and mortify my body in every possible way. No, these forty days for Christians are not only a time of penance but also a time of preparation and conversion that helps us align ourselves with the sacrificial love we commemorate in the Paschal Triduum. It allows us to accompany Christ in the mysteries of His passion, death, and resurrection.

It Begins On Ash Wednesday

The beginning of the Lenten season is marked by Ash Wednesday, a day when we remember that we are sinners. During the Mass, ashes made from the palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday are blessed. These ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the faithful with the phrases: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The ashes remind us of our own mortality and fragility that needs to be redeemed by the mercy of God. It reminds the Christian of their origin and their end. Ash Wednesday is not obligatory, and non-Catholics can also receive ashes. On this day, you should observe abstinence and fasting if you are between the ages of 18 and 59.

Sacrifices and Penances as Acts of Love

The Lenten season is a time characterized by sacrifice through penance, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. While sacrifice in any sphere of human activity is considered a value when it is related to the effort to achieve a result, the sense of sacrifice for a Christian goes much further: it is directly related to love. Lent is an ideal time to discover this sense. The renunciations and mortifications we impose on ourselves during this time serve to begin to understand or deepen our understanding of the true meaning of love. It is a love that can endure all, bear all, and forgive all—a love that comes from God Himself, who sacrifices for us.

As Saint John Paul II said, it is about ‘everything that helps the Gospel pass from the mind to the heart and from the heart to life.’ How different it is to live penance by removing all negative connotations that, instead of encouraging us to pursue it, dissuade us from it! Understanding its true meaning transforms penance into an act of profound love.

Fasting: Much More Than Abstaining from Food

Fasting is not about suppressing all foods and shouting to the world that we are starving because we are fasting. Fasting should always be offered with love and humility, in the silence of the heart. Fasting is not just about giving up a meal or a favorite food. We can fast from words and actions, try not to criticize as much, avoid using bad language, speak with more love and kindness, not give dirty looks to that neighbor everyone can’t stand, talk to that office colleague everyone ignores, offer to do a favor, or invite to lunch that family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. All offered as a loving sacrifice to the Father. Abstinence is mandatory every Friday during Lent.

Prayer and Generosity

The Church designates almsgiving, along with fasting and prayer, as a remedy against sin. In our times, almsgiving becomes even more necessary. In an era where materialism and the value of possessions become excessive, giving alms is a remedy for the soul. Ceasing to focus on oneself to come to the aid of the most needy, and not just giving what we have in excess but giving what costs us. It is necessary to give with sacrifice, to renounce what is ours in favor of others out of love for God Himself. Almsgiving needs to be present in this season of Lent to help us stop thinking about ourselves and understand more and more what it means to give oneself entirely. Prayer will be that constant communication with God to show us the way and strengthen us throughout our lives.

The Lent ends when the true sacrifice begins…

Lent culminates on Holy Thursday. It is the day when the time of preparation has ended and the true sacrifice begins. Renewed by these 40 days, we prepare to continue accompanying our Lord towards Calvary. We have prepared so that our hearts remain ardent in love for Christ, and through His grace, we can continue with Him the sacrifice of giving our lives for love.

“(…) The Church, our mother and teacher, in addition to the sometimes bitter medicine of truth, offers us in this Lenten time the sweet remedy of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.”What other things can make your Lent a true time of conversion? Leave us your opinion in the comments.

Pope Francis – Lenten Message 2018

This article was originally published in Spanish HERE.

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