Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.
“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis …” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II no. 109).
Lent is the forty day period before Easter, excluding Sundays, begins on Ash Wednesday, which is the day on which the faithful have their foreheads signed with ashes in the form of a Cross by the minister: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19); “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Fasting and Abstinence
Good Friday and Ash Wednesday are the major days for fasting in general for those who have reached the age 18 and are not yet 60. Abstinence means no meat on those days for those who are age 14 [or over]. General canon law says that all Fridays are days of abstinence — no meat — but if you want to eat meat, you should substitute some other form of penance.
Canon 1250 “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and time throughout the universal Church.”
Canon 1251 “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Canon 1252 “All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.”
Canon 1253 “It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.”
The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week. Holy week is the most solemn of all the weeks in the Church’s Calendar, and traces the last days of Jesus’ life, leading up to his death and burial. Lent ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). [This traditional enumeration does not precisely coincide with the calendar according to the liturgical reform. In order to give special prominence to the Sacred Triduum (Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, Easter Vigil) the current calendar counts Lent as only from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, up to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Even so, Lenten practices are properly maintained up to the Easter Vigil, excluding Sundays, as before.]
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path, before His arrest on Holy Thursday and His Crucifixion on Good Friday.
On the night before his death Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples and thereby instituted the Lord’s Supper, also called Communion (Luke 22:19-20). Jesus also washed the disciples’ feet as an act of humility and service, thereby setting an example that we should love and serve one another in humility (John 13:3-17). It was later on this night that Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word for “command.” The “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday refers to the command Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper, that they should love and serve one another.
On Good Friday, we celebrate the Liturgy of the Passion. Since the earliest time of the Church, no Mass has been offered on Good Friday. Instead the service has consisted of a solemn procession, readings (including the Passion in the Gospel of St. John), a series of petitions, the veneration of the cross, and a Communion service. The simple Communion service includes the recitation of the Our Father, the proclamation “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to His Supper,” and then the reception of Holy Communion (which was consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper) by the celebrant and the faithful. The omission of Mass reflects the deep sorrow the Church has in remembering the sacrifice of our Lord on the first Good Friday.
Easter is the most important festival of the Christian faith – the day on which we celebrate the raising of Jesus from the dead, with all of the associated joy, hope and confidence. The Easter season spans 50 days, from Easter Day itself, through to the Day of Pentecost.
The Easter Vigil begins with darkness. Then a light is struck. It breaks into the darkness.
Service of Light – The service begins outside the church. A new fire is lit and blessed. A Paschal Candle symbolizes Christ, the Light of the World is prepared. The candle lit from the new fire is then processed into the community, and we receive its light and experience the power of that light as it grows. When the candle is brought front and centre, we celebrate the Easter Proclamation.
Liturgy of the Word – There are nine readings, seven Old Testament and two New Testament and eight psalms or songs that have been prepared to help us with our night’s vigil. Not all are required to be read due to time constraints, but at least three Old Testament readings must be read, including Exodus 14. These readings help us meditate on the wonderful works of God for his people since the beginning of time. The Gloria is sung before the reading of the Epistle of the Romans, and the Alleluia is sung before the Gospel.
Liturgy of Baptism – During this time the Easter water is blessed, new members are brought into the Church through baptism, and the faithful are blessed with water and renew their baptismal promises.
Liturgy of Eucharist – All our preparations, all the power of this night’s rituals and sacraments, lead us to celebrate the Eucharist, to “give God thanks and praise.” As the newly confirmed receive the final Sacrament of Initiation, the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are ready to celebrate Easter.
For 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people, continuing to teach and work miracles, and preparing his disciples for his departure and for the coming of the Holy Spirit. On Ascension Day (which always falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter Day) we especially recall the ascension of Jesus into heaven. According to Matthew’s Gospel, just before he was taken, Jesus instructed his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28.19), and Luke records that Jesus also instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, when they would be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24.49). For this, latter, reason, the days between Ascension Day and Pentecost have a focus on prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
Pentecost means “fiftieth day” and is celebrated fifty days after Easter. Pentecost is the great festival that marks the birth of the Christian church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the twelve apostles, Jesus’ mother and family, and many other of His disciples gathered together in Jerusalem for the Jewish harvest festival that was celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. While they were indoors praying, a sound like that of a rushing wind filled the house and tongues of fire descended and rested over each of their heads. This was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on human flesh promised by God through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29). The disciples were suddenly empowered to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ. They went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began preaching to the crowds gathered for the festival. Not only did the disciples preach with boldness and vigour, but by a miracle of the Holy Spirit they spoke in the native languages of the people present, many who had come from all corners of the Roman Empire. This created a sensation. The apostle Peter seized the moment and addressed the crowd, preaching to them about Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. The result was that about three thousand converts were baptized that day. (You can read the Biblical account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-41).