It's that time of year again, when our friends and coworkers helpfully offer to wipe the black smudge off of our foreheads. Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic Church. (For Eastern Rite Catholics, the first day of Lent was Clean Monday, the Monday before Ash Wednesday.)
As we begin our Lenten discipline, one excellent way to do a little bit more is to read the Bible each day. The Church provides us with selected spiritual readings for Lent. If you have children, check out these tips on how to incorporate these Lenten readings into your family life.
And remember--today is a day of strict fasting (no eating between meals, and only one full meal, with two smaller ones, for all Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59) and abstinence (no meat or food made with meat for all Catholics over the age of 14). For more details, see What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?.
And if you're looking for meatless recipes for today and the Fridays of Lent, check out an amazing selection from around the world in Lenten Recipes: Meatless Recipes for Lent and Throughout the Year.
(Catholics pray during an Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, Washington, D.C., February 17, 2010. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images))
FAQs About Ash Wednesday:
- When Is Ash Wednesday?
- What Determines the Date of Ash Wednesday?
- How Is the Date of Ash Wednesday Calculated?
- Is Ash Wednesday a Holy Day of Obligation?
- Can Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday?
- Should Catholics Keep Their Ashes on All Day on Ash Wednesday?
FAQs About Lent:
More FAQs About Lent:
The day before Ash Wednesday is known by a lot of names, most famously Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday (which is what Mardi Gras means in French). Traditionally, it has also been called Shrove Tuesday--the day on which Christians were "shriven" or forgiven of their sins when they went to Confession.
Even as our thoughts turn to the penitential season of Lent, however, we enjoy one last day of feasting. That's why Shrove Tuesday is also often called Pancake Day, the day on which medieval Christians, whose Lenten fast was more strict than ours, used up their eggs, butter, and milk--all of which were forbidden during Lent--by making pancakes.
In England, the tradition continues even today, and Laura Porter, of About London Travel, has a wonderful series of articles on Pancake Day in London. She includes a delicious pancake recipe, and you can find tips on cooking pancakes (and more recipes) on About Desserts and Baking.
So tonight, why not feed your kids breakfast for supper? As they prepare for the Ash Wednesday fast and abstinence, you can feed them pancakes and bacon and tell them the story of how Christians in earlier times went all 40 days of Lent without any meat, eggs, and dairy products. Then, as they pick their jaws up off the floor, you can hand out some Pancake Day Puzzles to help them learn a little bit more about this last day of feasting before Lent.
And if pancakes aren't your style, check out this extensive list of Fat Tuesday Recipes for other Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday foods and traditions!
(Photo © Barb Rolek, Licensed to About.com, Inc.)
For our novena this week, the beginning of Lent in the Catholic Church, I have chosen a prayer that was not written specifically as a novena. The Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian was written by--you guessed it--Saint Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon and doctor of the Church, in the fourth century and has been used continuously since then by Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as a Lenten and penitential prayer. It is very short and only takes a minute to pray, but Eastern Christians pray it several times per day during Lent.
Traditionally, a prostration is made after each verse of the prayer. To make a prostration, you go down on your right knee, then down on both knees, then place your forehead to the floor, before reversing the process. The physical action is itself a form of humility, and helps to underscore the words of the prayer, in which we ask the Lord to make us aware of our sins and to keep us from judging others.
Start this novena on Ash Wednesday, and if, at the end of nine days, you have found the prayer spiritually useful, consider continuing to pray it throughout Lent.
(Icon of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, from Meryemana Kilesesi, Diyarbakr, Turkey.)
More on Saint Ephrem the Syrian:
In the United States, the month of March is most often associated with Saint Patrick, and tons of corned beef and cabbage and many gallons of Irish stout are consumed on March 17 in his honor. Throughout most of the rest of the Catholic world, however (with the obvious exception of Ireland), the month of March is associated with a saint whose primary feast falls two days later, on March 19: Saint Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster father of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the Catholic Church dedicates the entire month of March to Saint Joseph and urges us to pay special attention to his life and example. In the 20th century, several popes had a deep devotion to Saint Joseph, and Pope Saint Pius X (1903-14) approved a public litany, the Litany of Saint Joseph, while Pope John XXIII (1958-63) wrote A Prayer for Workers, asking Saint Joseph to intercede for them.
Fathers, in particular, should cultivate devotion to Saint Joseph, whom God Himself chose to care for His Son. As we learn more about Saint Joseph, we can teach our own boys about the virtues of fatherhood through his example.
One place to start is with a novena to Saint Joseph. The Novena to Saint Joseph is a very good prayer for fathers; while the Novena to Saint Joseph the Worker is perfect for those times when we have an important project or assignment that we're having trouble completing.
(Statue of Saint Joseph in the Lourdes Grotto, Saint Mary Oratory, Rockford, Illinois. Photo © Scott P. Richert.)
Prayers to Saint Joseph:
Known as Clean Monday, this is a day to reflect on cleaning our spiritual house. For Eastern Christians, Clean Monday is a day of strict fasting and abstinence from all meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Even Western Catholics who don't observe Clean Monday can take advantage of this day to start to get their spiritual house in order. Clean Monday is a good day to decide on some spiritual reading for Lent--for instance, a book such as Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ (compare prices) or the Scripture readings that the Church prescribes for every day of Lent.
It's also a good day to learn a new prayer. Throughout Lent, Eastern Christians will frequently pray the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, which, in three short, easily memorized verses, sums up the goals that we should all have for this Lenten season.
- What Is Clean Monday?
- What Is Shrove Tuesday?
- When Does Lent Start?
- When Is Lent?
- How Are the 40 Days of Lent Calculated?
- Why Don't Roman Catholics Sing the Alleluia During Lent?
- What Should Replace the Alleluia During Lent?
- Should I Give Up My Diet for Lent?
- What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?
- Should We Fast on Sundays?
- What Is Laetare Sunday?
- When Does Lent End?
No, you haven't stumbled onto Christine Luff's About Running site by accident (although I highly recommend it!). And there is a Catholic angle here . . .
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may know that, after a 20-year hiatus, I started running again a few years ago, when my children joined a local cross-country team, the Rockford Wildcats. These old(er) bones took a while to get back into shape, but everything finally clicked last year. I worked my way up to a 10-mile race (the Crim in Flint, Michigan) and only missed running a half-marathon last fall because I couldn't find one that didn't conflict with my kids' cross-country meet schedule. (They come first!)
About a month ago, I received an email from our local running club, the Rockford Road Runners, with an intriguing message: an alumna of the Rockford Wildcats, who is now a nun with the Franciscans of the Eucharist in Chicago, is organizing a charity team to run the Chicago Marathon. Over the past three years, Team OLA has raised $77,000 for the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, which "aims to bring Christ to the poor in one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago."
Sister Stephanie describes the work of the Mission:
We don't take salaries, and our overhead expenses are very low compared to similar charities. We are building up to Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist, continuing to expand our outreach to the poor, and those of us who are almost done with our master's degrees are gearing up to teach religion in poor Catholic schools. We currently feed about 700 families a month, have about 900 kids involved with our afterschool programming, host community dinners to build up the family structure in our neighborhood, plus much more. Most importantly, we provide a presence of prayer in our tumultuous neighborhood.
I hadn't been planning to run a marathon quite yet, but after reading about the work that Sister Stephanie and her community are doing, and the sacrifices that they are making to bring Christ to Chicago's poor, I decided to do what I could to help. Every member of Team OLA must pledge to bring in a minimum of $1,000 for the Mission; in return, you get guaranteed entry in the Chicago Marathon. Team OLA's fundraising goal this year is $40,000—and I'm hoping that the readers of About Catholicism will help us leave that goal in the dust. (More on that in the coming months.)
But back to the title of this post: There are still spots left on Team OLA, but they are going fast. If you are a runner, and you would like guaranteed entry in the Chicago Marathon, and you'd like to raise money for a charity that is truly doing God's work among the poor of Chicago, Sister Stephanie needs to hear from you today. Email her at email@example.com, and let her know that you want to join me in running the Chicago Marathon with Team OLA!
And if you're not a runner but still want to do your part, email Sister Stephanie and tell her that you'd like to join Team OLA's prayer team, to pray for me or for another runner as we train for the marathon. With your help, we will truly be able to say with Saint Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
The first Friday of Lent falls one week from today, and, like all Fridays during Lent, it will be a day of abstinence. All Catholics over the age of 14 are required to abstain from meat and from food made with meat. (For more details, see What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?)
Most people know that Catholics used to abstain from meat on every Friday of the year, but did you know that the Church still encourages us to do so? Learn a little more about the history and current practice of abstinence in Abstinence as Spiritual Discipline.
And if you're looking for meatless Lent recipes, make sure to try out these Lenten Recipes: Meatless Recipes for Lent and Throughout the Year, a collection of delicious Lent recipes (and other meat-free recipes) from around the world.
More on Abstinence and Lent:
MASSACHUSETTS (February 26, 2014)—Catholics around the United States woke up this morning with a sense of dread. When is Ash Wednesday? Had they missed it? After a brief moment of panic, they realized that they hadn't noticed anyone wearing ashes yet this year. (There is, after all, always that one guy at work who insists on keeping his ashes on all day on Ash Wednesday.)
A quick sigh of relief gave way to a new concern: Today is Wednesday! Could it be...?
"This happens every year," Fr. Leonard McFeeley told me. "Sometimes they'll even come banging on our door here at Our Lady of the Golf Course two weeks before Lent starts. It's locked, of course—my interpretive dance lessons are on Wednesdays. But for several years now, I've skipped my lesson the week before Ash Wednesday, because it's so nice to see all of the people I haven't seen since last year, when they showed up a week before Ash Wednesday."
In the past, Father McFeeley says, "I have gently explained to my prodigal sons and daughters that they've arrived a week early. But no matter how much I praise them for their anticipation of Ash Wednesday and urge them to return in a week, very few actually do. And some get downright angry when I tell them that I won't have any ashes to hand out until the next week."
Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images
So this year, Father McFeeley has a plan. "For pastoral reasons, the Church sometimes lets us anticipate a liturgical celebration. Saturday vigil Masses are an example. So, I thought, here's a perfect reason to do so! I've got all these parishioners flocking to the church, and if I don't do something for them, who knows when I'll see them again?"
"Well," he added after a brief pause, "I'll probably see them again next year, a week before Ash Wednesday, but that just proves the point, doesn't it?"
So today, if you show up at OLGC (at the corner of Mashie and Niblick roads), Father McFeeley will be ready for you. "People are busy, and, since it's not really Ash Wednesday, it doesn't feel quite right to do this inside of the church, so I'll be standing on the front steps of Our Lady of Good Counsel with a bowlful of ashes for anyone who wants to receive them today."
"Of course," Father McFeeley continued, "I came up with this on the fly last night, and forgot that I didn't have any ashes to use. We're collecting last year's palms on this coming Sunday, and burning them on Shrove Tuesday. But then I realized I had an old copy of the 1962 Missale Romanum gathering dust. I won't be needing that again. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone!"
This isn't the first time Father McFeeley has come up with an unorthodox solution to a pastoral problem. Last year, when a full third of his registered parishioners showed up on Divine Mercy Sunday expecting to celebrate Easter, Father McFeeley improvised and offered the Easter Sunday Mass all over again.
"It's all about serving the people," Father McFeeley said. "I just ask myself, 'What would Jesus do?'"
Today (Tuesday, February 25, 2014), I will be on EWTN Radio's "At Home With Jim and Joy" to discuss all things Lent—especially, how to use this final week before Ash Wednesday to prepare ourselves for this season of fasting and prayer.
Among other topics we plan to discuss are:
- How Are the 40 Days of Lent Calculated?
- When Does Lent End? (not as simple as it seems)
- What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence?
- How Has the Observance of Lent Changed Over the Years?
- Should We Fast on Sundays?
- Daily Scripture Readings for Lent
In addition, we'll be taking your calls during the second half of the show, so if you have a question about Lent, make sure to call in at (800) 585-9396!
The show is an hour long and begins at 2 P.M. EST (1 P.M. CST; noon MST; 11 A.M. PST). "At Home with Jim and Joy" airs on 230 EWTN AM & FM affiliates across the United States, as well as Sirius Satellite Radio’s channel 130, and on Sky Radio in Europe. You can also stream the show live through the web and on mobile devices (through the EWTN, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn apps), and pick up the EWTN Shortwave Radio signal around the globe.
So tune in, listen, and call in. I hope to hear from many readers of the About Catholicism site! And if you can't listen today (or even if you can), I'll post a link in a few days to a downloadable version of the episode.
Lent is fast approaching, and as every Catholic knows, observing Lent properly takes a lot of work. Uprooting vices, practicing virtue, fasting, praying, giving alms—all of these take effort, and it's all too easy to slack off.
Since the bulk of Lent falls every year in March, the Month of Saint Joseph, why not turn to the patron saint of workers for help in preparing for Lent? This Novena to Saint Joseph the Worker is short and simple. In it, we ask God to help us look to the example of Saint Joseph, and to rely on the protection of the foster father of Jesus, so that we may persevere in our work and win eternal life.