As we move into the month of March and the beginning of spring, we begin the Liturgical Season of Lent with our celebration of Mardi Gras on the 5th of March and Ash Wednesday on the 6th . These celebrations serve as a reminder that this is our opportunity to revisit our Lenten responsibilities and honestly ask ourselves if we are living our Catholic faith. This is our time of reconciliation and renewal. We do that by soul searching and asking:
Are we honoring the intentions of Lent? Are we on the path of becoming a more committed practicing Catholic? Are we reaching out to those we have offended, or spoken ill of us with an attempt to be reconciled? Are we paying more attention and giving more time to our family: our spouse, and our children? Is our family praying together each day? Are we giving our employer a full day’s work, for a full day’s pay? Are we, personally praying more each day?
A good short prayer for God’s presence and forgiveness is: "Lord Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Let us take advantage of this special time of the year to deepen our relationship with our God. If we are tempted to act inappropriately or say something which we know we shouldn’t, or will regret, saying this prayer repeatedly will block that temptation.
Are we being faithful to our responsibility of abstinence and fasting during the Lenten season? (abstaining from fleshly meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and all Friday’s of the year); and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (1 full meal with the other two meals equaling one meal). The requirements are from ages “18” through “59”.
But, since we are looking at our life over the past year, we cannot neglect the question about abstinence and fasting during the rest of the year. Are we following the guidelines of on-going atonement and reparation during the year? The unfortunate answer is: many are not.
Holy Mother church still has the requirements of fasting and abstinence in the Law of the Church (Canon Law 249-253). However, in a letter issued by the USCCB (United State Conference of Catholic Bishops) the following is the expected protocol for Catholics.
In the United States, the USCCB allows the substitution of some other form of penance for abstinence on all Fridays of the year, except for those Fridays in Lent. Thus, the rules for fasting and abstinence in the United States are:
Every person 18 years to 60 must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
Every person of age 18 through 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Every person of age must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on all other Fridays of the year, unless he or she substitutes some other form of penance for abstinence that is equal to or greater than abstaining from meat.
The USCCB “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence” states in #23: Friday should be in each week of the year something of what Friday is in Lent. For this reason, we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.
May this season of pondering, contemplating, reconciliation and renewal bring all of us to a renewed understanding and our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ!