Saturday, 13 February 2021

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Masses continue as usual this Sunday at St Catherine's (although the 11.30am EF Mass is still suspended).

Lent begins this week, so there is Mass with the distribution of Ashes at 9.30am and 7pm on Ash Wednesday. 

Following the publication of guidelines by the Holy See, the Archdiocese has directed parishes to administer Ashes in accordance with Covid 19 safety precautions. The main part of this is that Ashes will be sprinkled on the head, rather than administered to the forehead with the priest’s thumb. This means that the Ashes can be given without physical contact. Whilst this may seem strange to us, it is in fact an ancient way of administering Ashes and is still the usual form in some countries today - Poland is an example I know of - and it is the usual form in the Vatican. Perhaps you may have noticed this in pictures or TV footage in the past when the Pope administers Ashes.


The traditional form of Stations of the Cross begins on Thursday evening - and each Thursday of Lent - at 7pm.





Monday 9.30am. Feria

Tuesday 12 noon (EF). Feria

ASH Wednesday  9.30am Mass & Ashes

                                7pm Mass and Ashes


Friday 9.30am. Lenten Feria

Saturday 12 noon (EF). Lenten Feria

Confessions between 11.30am & 11.50am


It’s always good to think ahead to how we might keep a good Lent and make some plans - to pray, to give alms, to make acts of penance.

To make some time for prayer or spiritual reading of the Bible or the lives of the saints or some other area of the Faith that might interest us - but this takes a little forward planning, perhaps to buy a book or dig out our bible. 

Perhaps to attend Mass more frequently (weekday Masses here, certainly, leave plenty of space for social distancing) or take part in the Stations of the Cross.

In these times especially, to make an effort in works of charity - that is to say, works of love - which covers charitable giving as well as practical acts of kindness to our neighbour.

Ash Wednesday remains a Day of Fasting and Abstinence. Fasting means to eat less and abstinence means to refrain from eating meat. What about the origin and history of fasting in the Church? There's an ancient practice of fasting in sorrow and repentance for sins found in the Old Testament. Fasting also accompanied fervent prayer to God. The idea was that fasting made one's prayer more acceptable to God. It was a way of demonstrating one's level of commitment before the Lord. These ideas remain valid today. God desires that we prove our love for him. As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words.

In the New Testament, Our Lord does not seem to emphasize fasting while his disciples are with him. When questioned about this by John's disciples, Jesus insists that fasting is inappropriate in times of joy. In saying this, he compared himself to the bridegroom and his disciples to wedding guests (Matt 9:14 ff; Mark 2:18 ff; Luke 5:33 ff). In other words, while Jesus and his disciples are together, it is a time of joy like a wedding feast, not a time for fasting. Jesus notes that when the bridegroom is taken away, then there will be fasting, which seems to imply fasting as a sign of mourning the loss of the bridegroom and also in anticipation of and preparation for his return. In the early Church, we find that the apostles were familiar with fasting and did so prior to making important decisions to gain divine assistance (Acts 13:2 ff; 14:23).

In the concepts of anticipation and preparation for the Lord Jesus we find a connection to the practice of fasting and abstinence during Lent. Lent is a time of penance and atonement for sin in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord. Fasting and abstinence are integral to that preparation for several reasons, such as building virtue, self-mastery, and helping to avoid sinful tendencies that may ultimately lead to spiritual death in the case of mortal sin.

The practice of fasting during Lent finds its genesis in our Lord's journey into the desert where he fasted and prayed for forty days and nights in preparation to begin his public ministry. The forty days of Lent are in imitation of Christ's time in the desert. During Lent, the Christian walks into the desert with Christ and fasts so as to have the strength to avoid temptation with the help of God's grace. Lent is also a penitential season in which we strive to atone for our sins and purify our lives in preparation for the celebration of Christ's glorious rising from the tomb on Easter Sunday.

Fasting is listed as the fourth precept of the Church, which states: "You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.”. This means that Catholics are under grave obligation to substantially observe these laws. Christians are required by divine law to do penance for their sins--penance is not optional.

The Church, as a caring mother, is providing us a specific means and season for completing acts of penance. Her goal is to see to it that her children attain eternal life. Her precept on fasting, then, is for our spiritual benefit. Catholics who intentionally neglect and/or reject all forms of penance violate divine law and thus would be guilty of grave sin. Grave sin committed with full knowledge and full consent is by definition mortal sin and thus places a soul in peril.

Because the season of Lent is of penitential character, the Church sets forth the days of penance as Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. Catholics are obliged to both fast and abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday and Friday of the Lord's Passion and abstain from flesh meat on all other Fridays during Lent. These requirements are binding on Catholics of the following age ranges:

Catholics from age 18 up through to the beginning of their 60th year (their 59th birthday) are required to fast, unless they have a serious reason for not doing so. Catholics who have reached age 14 are required to abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. If a solemnity happens to fall on a Friday, abstinence is not required on that day. Notice there is no upper age limit on the requirement to abstain.


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