My dear people of St. Mary’s,
This upcoming week we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Many Catholics think that Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation, but it is actually not. However, attending Mass on that day and receiving ashes is the best way to begin the Lenten season. Each year, this day affords us an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are sinners in need of repentance, and also gives us the ability to publically profess our Catholic Faith by the visible sign of ashes on our foreheads. Ashes will be distributed at all Masses in the Church: 7:30 am; 9:00 am; & 12:15 pm. Ashes will also be distributed at the 4:45 pm prayer service and 7:00 pm Mass, both in Msgr. Ryan Hall.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only days of fast left on the Church’s calendar. All those who are between the ages of 18 and 59 are permitted on those days to eat one regular meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to one full meal. Also, Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence. That means that all Catholics 14 years and older are required to abstain from meat on those days. Of course, one may voluntarily go beyond these requirements, but this is the minimum. It is good to remember that one of the earliest Church documents we have, the Didache (known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, and dating from the First Century), mentions that the early followers of Jesus fasted every Wednesday and Friday of the entire year, in addition to other days, not to mention days of abstinence. That’s over a hundred days of fast each year. Knowing that, two days now doesn’t sound so demanding, does it?
The Church has always encouraged Catholics to take on some voluntary penance during the season of Lent. Remember that “giving something up” for Lent is not only for children, but is certainly for adults as well. I recommend that you think about this before Ash Wednesday, and that you choose something that will require an effort on your part, but which will not be impossible. Also, commit yourself to continuing the penance through the whole of Lent, even if you should slip a time or two. And remember, you shouldn’t give up something you don’t like (after all, that’s not a penance!), and you may not give up something which is a sin (because you shouldn’t be doing that in the first place!). Adopting such a penance for this season reminds us of the Great Penance that our Lord did for us throughout His whole life on earth, but especially on Good Friday. Doing penance is actually a form of prayer. It also teaches us self-discipline in the spiritual life. If we are able to say “no” to ourselves in a small thing, we will be better able to endure it when Life says “no” to us in a bigger thing.
Lent is also a wonderful opportunity to return to the Sacrament of Penance. Last year, you may recall, I preached frequently about the importance of making use of this powerful Sacrament, something Pope Francis is constantly stressing in his public statements. We will be offering extended hours of confessions throughout the season of Lent, and you may see the schedule elsewhere in this bulletin. We will have a total of 48 scheduled hours of confessions during Lent. That equals two full days in the confessional for me, and I am most happy to do it, because I am dedicated to this great Sacrament, and want you to have every opportunity to receive the tremendous graces it brings.
You will also read in this bulletin Bishop Barres’ first Lenten Letter. In it, he encourages all active Catholics of every age to invite one inactive Catholic back to Church this Lent. I think it is a wonderful idea. So often, those who have drifted away are simply waiting for an invitation to return. Don’t be shy. We know that God always invites us, but others may simply need an invitation from someone they know. So, ask yourself if there is someone you know whom you could invite to Mass this Lent. And, once they are here, the trust that Lord will do the rest.