The Call of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
‘Give alms…Pray to your Father…Fast without a gloomy face…’ (Matthew 6:1-18)
Unless you shall do penance, you shall perish.” (Luke xiii. 3)
Lent is the period of time for Catholic recollection and penance in preparation for the greatest of all Church’s feasts. The Church, made up of stay-at-home Catholics today who hold fast to the traditions of its fathers in the faith, bring into it everything that can excite the faith of her children and encourage them to go through the lonely and painful work of atonement for their sins.
“Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold. For alms delivereth from death and the same is that which purgeth away sins and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.” (Tobias xii. 8-9)
Prayer and penance are more necessary today than ever before, because everything possible has been done to diminish and despise these two fundamental elements of Christian life and without them we will perish for sure.
Our Savior showed himself where he said that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another “without prayer and fasting.” And we should marvel that anyone should take umbrage with fasting and other bodily penance.
The children of the Church is a faithful army who do war against spiritual enemies. On Ash Wednesday the Church calls Lent a Christian warfare, because that is what it is. To survive this battle we must be taught by our Lord during each lent to conquer the enemies of the devil, our flesh, and the whole of the wicked world. We do this in large part through fasting and abstinence.
Rather, penance also demands that we satisfy divine justice with fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and other works of the spiritual life. Every wrongdoing–be it large or small–is fittingly punished, either by the penitent or by a vengeful God. Therefore, we cannot avoid God’s punishment in any other way than by punishing ourselves. If this teaching is constantly implanted in the minds of the faithful, and if they drink deeply of it, there will be very little cause to fear that those who have discarded their degraded habits and washed their sins clean through sacramental confession would not want to expiate the same sins through fasting, to eliminate the concupiscence of the flesh. [Pope Clement XIII, Appetente Sacro (On the Spiritual Advantages of Fasting)].
Fasting & Abstinence
The uniform norms for fast and abstinence adopted in 1951 by the bishops of the United States were somewhat modified at their November 1956 meeting. The regulations on this matter now read as follows:
- Everyone over 7 years of age is bound to observe the law of abstinence.
- Complete abstinence is to be observed on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas. On days of complete abstinence, meat and soup or gravy made from meat may not be used at all.
- Partial abstinence is to be observed on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and the Vigil of Pentecost. On days of partial abstinence, meat and soup or gravy made from meat may be taken only once a day at the principal meal.
- Everyone 21 – 59 years of age is bound to observe the law of fast.
- The days of fast are all the days in Lent except Sundays, the Ember Days and Vigils of Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.
- Ember Days are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. In the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, Ember days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, that are set aside for fasting and prayer.
Before the revision of the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar by the Vatican II false counter-church in 1969 (coinciding with the adoption of the Novus Ordo), the Church was known to celebrate Ember Days four times each year. They were tied to the changing of the seasons, but also to the liturgical cycles of the Church. The spring Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday of Lent; the summer Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost; the fall Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the third Sunday in September (not, as is often said, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross); and the winter Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13).
- On days of fast, only one full meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s needs; but together they should not equal another full meal.
- Meat may be taken at the principal meal on a day of fast except on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.
- Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed.
- Where health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, a parish priest or confessor should be consulted.
* There is no obligation for fast or abstinence on a holy day of obligation, even if it falls on a Friday.
St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians called the followers of the Lord to “pray constantly” (1 Thess. 5:17). Let us seek to understand and practice the meaning of this teaching. Lent is a season for increased efforts in dialoguing with God and in being with God both in silence and in worship. If we cannot attain to unceasing prayer because of our current state in life, at least we can spend more time in the awareness that we are in the presence of God, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Strive to pray the Rosary each day, at least 5 decades; and better yet, pray the 15 decades each day.
(Note: never pray the “luminous mysteries” concocted by John Paul II, that false pope and wicked servant of the devil. And never pray the “Fatima prayer” heretical formula used to annihilate the grace that is to be received by devoutly praying the true Rosary. See my section called Heresies for more information on this topic)
Jesus gives to the Church the command to perform corporal works of mercy: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt. 25: 35-36). Lent becomes an opportunity to make a greater effort to see Christ in the poor, the suffering, and the stranger, in the least among us.