The season of Lent focuses primarily on two aspects of Christian life. First, we remember our Baptism and reflect on it with those who are preparing to be baptized. Second, we consider how well or poorly we have lived out our baptismal promises, and we observe more intensely the Christian penitential disciplines in order to live more faithfully the vows we made, or will make, at Baptism. By emphasizing these two points, the Church prepares for the great Easter season when those who are not Christian are baptized and those who are already Christian renew their baptismal promises.
Because we often fail to live out our baptismal call, we sin in ways that affect our relationship with God, with each other, and with the world. Therefore, the penance that we do during Lent helps us not only to move toward conversion and obedience to God but also to express outward signs of reconciliation with the Church, with society and those around us, and with creation. Thus, during Lent the Church encourages us to follow more intensely three disciplines of penance: prayer, fasting, and works of charity and love.
During Lent, we are encouraged to participate more often in the Eucharist, not only on Sunday but also on traditionally penitential days, such as Friday. This is an especially beneficial time to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance as well as the other liturgies of the Church, such as Evening Prayer and adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Other devotions, such as stations of the cross, vigils, and prayer services are encouraged. Individual practices are also suggested, such as daily prayer, Scripture reading, spiritual reading, alms-giving, personal self-denial, and increased care and service to the sick and poor.
Fasting and Abstinence
Denying or limiting oneself from food is a traditional penitential practice. During Lent, those between the age of 18 until the day after one’s 59th birthday are obligated to observe a day of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Fasting means that one full meatless meal per day may be eaten. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be eaten, but together they should not equal a full meal. Liquids, including milk and fruit juice, may be taken between meals. If health or ability to work are affected, one is not obligated to fast. Private, self-imposed observance of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended. Pastors and parents should ensure that children who are not bound by the laws of fast and abstinence are catechized in an authentic sense of penance, conversion, and reconciliation. Abstinence from eating meat is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. All the faithful, from the day after their 14th birthday, are bound by Church law to abstain from meat on these days.
Easter Duty and Holy Communion
All the faithful, after they have participated in First Communion, are obligated to share in Communion at least once a year. This law must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at some other time during the year. In the United States, with regard to this law, the Easter season is the period from the First Sunday of Lent until Most Holy Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost).
Sacrament of Penance
After Baptism and a diligent examination of conscience, members of the Christian faithful are obligated to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance if one consciously commits a serious sin which has not yet been confessed or acknowledged in individual confession. It is recommended that venial sins are also confessed. The faithful who are old enough to understand that they have sinned are obligated to confess serious sins at least once a year. Persons who are aware of having committed serious sin cannot celebrate Mass or receive Communion without prior sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason they cannot do so or there is no opportunity for them to do so.
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