The Meaning of Lent
The English word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, meaning ‘Spring’. In other languages the word comes from the Latin, Quadragesima – a period of 40 days. In the Christian tradition the forty days is understood to refer to a time of intense prayer and preparation; we remember the biblical stories of Noah and the flood of 40 days, the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness and Christ’s forty day fast in the desert in preparation for his earthly ministry.
Ash Wednesday – 26 February 2020
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence. In the readings today there is a great consciousness of our sinfulness, we we pray ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned’. There is also a sense that the time to repent and turn back is now. The Gospel tells us how to approach that renewal of our lives. It puts before us the remedy in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three strands of Lenten observance are as ancient as Christianity itself. There is no substitute for them. ‘Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy if the lifeblood of fasting. If we have not all three together, we have nothing,’ says Saint Peter Chrysologus.
Why we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.
Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2020
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). See Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2020 here.
#LivingLent 2020 challenge on Twitter and Instagram
The #LivingLent initiative will take place on Twitter and Instagram and will involve short daily suggestions based on the themes of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, which are the three pillars of the Lenten season:
- Prayer and scripture suggestions (prayer intentions including those of Pope Francis, prayers of intercession and Lenten prayers)
- Opportunities for penance and fasting in our daily lives (fasting from gossip, fasting from negativity online, giving up certain foods for Lent, availing of the Sacrament of Reconciliation)
- Suggestions of charitable acts (donating to Trócaire and other charities; Donating your time by volunteering or helping out within your own family, school, parish; and behaving in a charitable way towards all those we meet)
People are invited to take part using the hashtag #LivingLent and are encouraged to share with their own followers how they are putting these suggestions into action in their daily lives.
Follow the #LiingLent initiative on the Bishops’ Instagram and Twitter accounts – @catholicbishops.
Friday Penance during Lent 2020
Penance is an essential part of the lives of all Christ’s faithful. It arises from the Lord’s call to conversion and repentance.
We do penance:
- in memory of the passion and death of the Lord,
- as a sharing in Christ’s suffering,
- as an expression of inner conversion,
- as a form of reparation for sin.
The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1438
Declaring some days throughout the year (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) as days of ‘fast and abstinence’ is meant to intensify penances of the Christian, not to isolate them.
Lent is the traditional season for renewal and penance. In addition to the season of Lent, Catholics observe each Friday of the whole year as days of penance.
The link between Friday and penance is extremely ancient and is even reflected in the Irish word for ‘Friday’, An Aoine (the fast).
Forms of Friday Penance
The following are suggested as ways of fulfilling Friday penance:
- Abstaining from meat or some other food
- Abstaining from alcoholic drink or smoking
- Making a special effort at involvement in family prayer
- Making a special effort to participate in Mass on Fridays
- Visiting the Blessed Sacrament
- Making the Stations of the Cross
- Fasting from all food for a longer period than usual and perhaps giving what is saved to the needy
- Helping the poor, sick, old, or lonely.
Tweets on Friday penance
The following are suggested tweets which could be tweeted each Friday during Lent:
Friday Penance: Make a special effort at family prayer. Make the Stations of the Cross. Do something to help the poor, sick or lonely.
Friday Penance: Make a special effort to avail of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Abstain from meat or some other food.
Trócaire Lenten Campaign for 2020
This year’s Trócaire Lenten campaign is about mothers protecting their families. The Trócaire box tells the story of two mother: Angela in Honduras who is protecting her family’s land from logging companies, and Madris in Kenya who is trying to provide for her family in the face of climate change. It tells two very different stories but both are linked by mothers trying to provide futures for their children.
Click here to download the resources and to read more about this year’s campaign.
Mass readings for Lent
Click here to access the daily Mass readings for Lent 2020.
[Note: The readings are not archived and are active for the day you click on to them only.]
Messages and Pastoral Letters for Lent 2020
We will be sharing links to Lenten messages and pastoral letters from the bishops here as they become available.
Daily Lenten Prayer
Today Lord, I choose life,
I choose your love and the challenge to live it and share it,
I choose hope, even in moments of darkness,
I choose faith, accepting you as Lord and God,
I choose to let go of some part of my burdens,
day by day handing them over to you,
I choose to take hold of your strength and power ever more deeply in my life.
May this truly be for me a time of new life, of change, challenge and growth.
May I come to Easter with a heart open to dying with you
and rising to your new life, day by day.