An early Easter this year means an early Lent… and a timely shift to a penitential mode. Once again, in the words of the Collect for Ash Wednesday, we take up the “weapons of self-restraint” in our “battle against spiritual evils”: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Perhaps these weapons have been sitting in a spiritual cupboard for a while; it’s now time to get them out and dust them off!
In Lent we lift up our hearts and minds to God in more intense prayer: as well as our own private prayer, why not make an effort to get to Mass or Divine Office during the week? During Lent there will also be Vespers and Stations of the Cross from 6:15pm each Friday.
Lent is a time we practise fasting: the Church requires those aged 18-58 to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, though many extend that to other days in Lent (e.g to CAFOD’s Lent Fast Day, coming up on Friday 19 February). Fasting means having just one modest meal per day, with two light “collations” to keep us going, but no snacks! Those aged 14+ are also required to practise abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays throughout the year. During Lent we offer a simple soup lunch after the Friday 12:15pm Mass, which enables us to observe this small penance together.
Fasting and abstinence remind us of our dependence on God’s providence, but also our obligations to those less fortunate than ourselves: that is, our practice of almsgiving. What we save through more modest eating, and ideally more besides, can be used to combat poverty both at home and abroad. As a parish and chaplaincy community we continue to support CAFOD, and more locally NEPACS working with prisoners’ families; but there are many other ways that each of us can help in need, by giving money, time or talents.
Through all these observances may we be bound closer together as a community, closer too to our brothers and sisters in need, and above all closer to God, as we prepare for the annual commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection.
And, especially in the Year of Mercy, may we make good use of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) in the coming penitential season; confession is available from 6:30pm on Wednesdays except Ash Wednesday, from 9:45am on Saturdays, by appointment or usually on call.