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Lent - Easter 2001, Volume XVI, No. 1 

The Observance of Lent

Farewell to Alleluia and Gloria |Suggestions for Families | For personal study and reflection | Cooking Activities

"The main current of Lent must flow through the interior man, through hearts and consciences. The essential effort of repentance consists in this. In this effort the human determination to be converted to God is invested with the predisposing grace of conversion and, at the same time, of forgiveness and of spiritual liberation".

This reflection by Pope John Paul II, recorded in a collection of his meditations, The Light of Christ, indicates the attitude with which we should approach our observance of this penitential season a season that begins with an ancient sign of repentance and continues with equally ageless penitential action.

Putting ashes on our heads and fasting as a form of penitence are both practices inherited from Old Testament tradition and continued by the early Christians.

Ashes remind us of our original sin and our need of redemption -- our need to be cleansed of sin and made worthy of Salvation. This is why the priest says, as he imposes ashes on our foreheads, "Remember, O Man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return" [Genesis 3:19].

When we wear the ashes on our heads, we acknowledge the sacrifice of Christ, who forever substituted his own death for the "burnt offerings" made by Old Testament priests to atone for the sins of the people.

In New Testament times, periods of fast were signs of repentance, but were also a time of intensified prayer and signified willingness to abide by the will of Christ and the Father who sent Him.

Christians also fast because of our sorrow at the loss of the Lord, our intention of giving our Christian life more depth and more seriousness of purpose, and our need to prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of Easter.

In the same Lenten message quoted above, Pope John Paul II said,

"Penance is not just an effort, a weight, but it is also a joy. Sometimes it is a great joy of the human spirit, a delight that other sources cannot bring forth. Contemporary man seems to have lost, to some extent, the flavor of this joy. He has also lost the deep sense of that spiritual effort which makes it possible to find oneself again in the whole truth of one's interior being. Our civilization ... has lost the sense of the effort of the spirit, the fruit of which is man seen in his inner self. The whole period of Lent, since it is a preparation for Easter, is a systematic call to this joy that comes from the effort of patiently finding oneself again. Let no one be afraid to undertake this effort."


Farewell to Alleluia and Gloria
During the penitential seasons of the Church, the Gloria and the Alleluia are not said or sung at Mass although the Gloria is sung at the Mass on Holy Thursday, usually with great ceremony. After the singing of the Gloria, musical instruments are to be silent until the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil.

In the Middle Ages and throughout the 16th century, the "burying" of the Alleluia was a solemn ritual on Septuagesima Sunday (the 7th Sunday before Easter). A procession of children carrying a wooden plaque bearing the word "Alleluia" laid it at the feet of the statue of the Blessed Virgin, covering it with a purple cloth. It remained there until Easter at the Gospel procession, when the plaque was carried in procession as the priest intoned the three Alleluias before the Easter Gospel.


Suggestions for Families
Lent is a time for each of us to increase our knowledge of the "faith that is in us" in order that we can fulfill our vocation as Christians to extend this rich blessing of faith to others. We accomplish personal renewal and revitalization of our faith through penance, prayer and instruction.

The purpose of fasting is to foster pure, holy, and spiritual activity. It is an act of solidarity which joins us to Christ an act of self-donation in imitation of His total self-sacrifice. Fasting can heighten our understanding of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, and of our total dependence on His love and mercy.

The Code of Canon Law states that Fridays throughout the year and in the time of Lent are penitential days for the entire Church. Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction in the Church between fast (limiting food to one full meal a day, with two very small meals) and abstinence (abstaining from eating meat).

Catholics abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday as well as on all Fridays during Lent. The strict fast for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday means that we will eat only one full meal on that day, with the other two being very light.

The value of self-denial must be learned early in life. Lent provides an excellent opportunity to teach our children the necessity of self-denial. It is the responsibility of families, the "domestic Church", to foster this practice, especially during Lent. To fast willingly, in reparation for our own sins and for others, can transform not only our own lives, but the life and vitality of the larger community.

A spirit of fasting can include restriction of luxuries such as television watching, shopping and going out with friends. The entire family could choose main "give-ups" that all will observe (for example, desserts or television). Each child can select additional things to "fast" from during Lent.

We can give away clothing or possessions to those in need, or we can give time to the Lord by volunteering our services. It would be good to involve children in this special kind of giving.


Lenten prayers and devotions.
Lent is an appropriate time to establish some family prayer traditions.

The family can say the following Lenten prayer (before or after the evening meal is usually a good time for this):

Heavenly Father, Let us observe the season of Lent in the spirit of joy giving ourselves to spiritual strife, cleansing our soul and body, controlling our passions, as we limit our food, living on the virtues of the Holy Spirit;

Let us persevere in our longing for Christ so as to be worthy to behold His most solemn Passion and the most holy Passover, rejoicing the while with spiritual joy. Amen

Whenever possible go to daily Mass during Lent, and pray more often by yourself or as a family. (Some Catholic schools have daily Mass during Lent; but parents should make a special effort to attend, too.)

Make a point of taking school-age (and older) children to Eucharistic Adoration. (If your parish does not have Eucharistic Adoration, consider asking your pastor about the possibility of starting it and volunteer to help organize it.)

Initiate a practice of saying the Angelus at family meals.

(Note to pastors and teachers: we will be glad to send you enough copies of the Angelus for your parish or classrooms.)

Read passages in Scripture that help to explain the meaning of fasting and of penance in our lives. Two that would be appropriate are Joel 2:12-14a and Matthew 6:16-21.


For personal study and reflection
Develop a Lenten reading program. Consider reading from the Bible or a Catholic classic every evening for half an hour. Maria von Trapp suggests that "every year we should divide our reading into three parts: something for the mind, something for the heart, something for the soul."

Here are some suggestions for readings from the Bible and other works.

Something for the mind

** read Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Book of Wisdom
** read a Catholic classic such as G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Francois Mauriac's Holy Thursday, Pascal's Pensees, Hans Urs von Balthasar's Prayer, Henri de Lubac's Motherhood of the Church, or a work of Edith Stein, Paul Claudel, or Cardinal Newman.
** study Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, Familiaris Consortio on the Christian family; or any of his writings, especially Original Unity of Man and Woman, Blessed are the Pure in Heart, or Reflections on Humanae Vitae
study a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Something for the heart

** Read the Psalms, Job, or the Song of Songs.
** Learn more about a courageous Christian of the past for example, Saint Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs, Saint Joan of Arc, Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Teresa of Avila, or the patron saints of family members.

Listen to traditional sacred music and study sacred art works that are an important part of our Catholic heritage. (Many beautiful books of Medieval and Renaissance prayer books and paintings are available. Children like to look at these pictures, too, especially with you.)

Something for the soul
** Read Jeremiah, Daniel, or other Old Testament prophets, one of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, or Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans.
** Recite the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), or memorize a devotion or classic Catholic prayer.
** Read works of great spiritual writers of the past, such as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis, and The Way of Perfection by Saint Teresa of Avila.
** Study contemporary spiritual writings, such as Pope John Paul II's meditation, The Light of Christ, Sign of Contradiction, or The Way of Christ; Hans Urs von Balthasar's The Threefold Garland, or Prayer; or Romano Guardini's Meditations before Mass.
** Say the Rosary every day. (Lent would be a good time to begin to teach your young child to say the Hail Mary with you.)


Cooking Activities

One traditional lenten food symbolizes prayer and fasting the pretzel. The name is a Germanicized form of the Latin word, bracellae, arms. Early Christians apparently made this lenten bread from flour, salt and water only (no fat), shaping it to represent arms folded in prayer. In some places in Europe the pretzel is commonly associated with Saint Joseph's day (March 19). Following is a recipe for soft pretzels.

Combine in a mixing bowl:
1 cup warm water
1 package (1-1/2 tablespoons) dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar

Add, and beat at least 3 minutes:
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 tablespoons soft butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Stir in 1 1/4 cups flour and knead until the dough loses its stickiness.

Let the dough rise ("proof") in a greased bowl in a warm place until it is doubled in bulk (about an hour).

Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, and form it into a pretzel shape. (There will be a dozen 6 inch pretzels.)

Place the pretzels on a greased baking sheet and let them rise until almost doubled in bulk (about 1/2 hour).

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

While the oven is heating, prepare a boiling solution in a large non-aluminum kettle:
4 cups water
5 teaspoons baking soda

With a slotted spoon, carefully lower the pretzels into the boiling water and boil about a minute, or until they float to the top. Return the pretzels to the baking sheet. Sprinkle the pretzels with coarse sea salt or Kosher salt, and bake them until they are nicely browned (about 10-12 minutes).

Pretzels are best when eaten while still warm, but they may be stored in a tightly closed container for up to a week, or may be frozen.

The Observance of Lent is adapted from

Family Sourcebook for Lent and Easter

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