"Did you pray to Saint Anthony?" Most of us Catholics who are of a certain age heard those words over and over again, if not from our parents, at least from our grandparents. My grandmother, it seemed, was always looking for any reason to recommend a prayer to Saint Anthony to find something that was lost.
Saint Anthony of Padua, a doctor of the Church, received his reputation as a divine lost-and-found because of the wonders that he worked both in his life and after it. Our novena this week recalls those miracles; in a Novena to Saint Anthony for Any Need, we don't ask the good saint to help us find a lost item, but to obtain for us the graces that we need to live a Christian life. As we enter the first full week of Lent, this novena is especially appropriate if we find, as we so often do, that our determination is flagging.
(Saint Anthony of Padua holding the Infant Jesus.)
If you have a favorite novena that you'd like me to choose as Novena of the Week, or if you'd like me to suggest a novena for a particular intention, send me an e-mail, and I'll work it into the rotation.
The Novena of the Week:
Do you ever have the feeling that something was just a bit different at Mass? Did you have that feeling yesterday? The Catholic Church often signals changes in liturgical seasons with, say, a change in the color of the priest's vestments. Sometimes, however, the change is a bit bigger.
During Lent, we get a few of those changes. The priest wears purple vestments, to signify repentance; and we omit the Gloria (or Glory to God) in the first part of the Mass. We also quit singing the Alleluia before the reading of the Gospel. Do you know why Roman Catholics don't sing the Alleluia during Lent?
More on the Missing Alleluia:
Today is the First Sunday in Lent, and our Lenten fast is but a few days old. Yet these first few days are often the hardest, and we greet this Sunday, which offers our first rest from our Lenten sacrifice (fasting being forbidden on Sundays) with relief. Refreshed, we can face tomorrow with renewed commitment to our Lenten journey.
If we should find ourselves being tempted, however, despite our best efforts to control our temptations, we might take some comfort in the words of St. John Chrysostom, offered in a commentary on the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (Matthew 4:1-11, in the traditional lectionary), in which the Devil tempts Christ at the end of His 40 days in the desert:
For the devil had despaired, seeing Christ fasting for forty days; but perceiving that afterwards He was hungry, he began to hope again; and so there follows: and the tempter coming . . . If therefore you have fasted, and you suffer temptation, do not say to yourself, "I have lost the fruit of my fasting." For if your fast has not availed that you be not tempted, it will yet avail that you be not overcome in temptation.
Since Lent comes around each year, it's hard sometimes to think of it as a spiritual journey. After all, journeys start in one place, progress, and then end in another. Yet the liturgical cycle keeps bringing us back to the starting point. If everything that goes around comes around, have we really made a spiritual journey?
The answer lies in how we make our travels. If we treat each Lent like "there's nothing new under the sun," then chances are that it will never amount to much of a spiritual journey. Our goal each year should be not only to end Lent a better person than when we began it, but to begin each Lent a better person than we were when we began Lent the previous year.
One spiritual exercise that can help us greatly in this goal is to read the Scripture readings that the Church has selected for each day of Lent. In the Office of the Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayers of the Church), the Church presents the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt through their entrance into the Promised Land.
It's a fascinating story, filled with miracles and intrigue, the wrath of God and His love. And it's comforting, too: The Chosen People constantly backslide, blaming Moses for leading them out of the comfort of Egypt into the midst of the barren desert. Concerned with day-to-day life, they have trouble keeping their eyes on the prize: the Promised Land.
We find ourselves in the same position, losing sight of our goal of Heaven, especially in the busyness of the modern world, with all of its distractions. Yet God did not abandon His people, and He will not abandon us. All He asks is that we keep on walking.
Scripture Readings for Lent:
- Scripture Readings for Ash Wednesday Through the First Week of Lent
- Scripture Readings for the Second Week of Lent
- Scripture Readings for the Third Week of Lent
- Scripture Readings for the Fourth Week of Lent
- Scripture Readings for the Fifth Week of Lent
- Scripture Readings for Holy Week
- Tips for Lenten Reading With Your Children
Quick—think of a European cuisine that's known for its meatless dishes. I may not be able to guess what you picked, but it's a pretty good bet that it was not German food. Sausages, sauerbraten, and schweinehaxen (pig's feet) are much more likely to come to mind when we think of German cuisine.
But Germany, like all European countries, once observed a rigorous Lent, and parts of the country, especially Bavaria, still hold tight to their Catholic Faith. To celebrate Lent with a German flavor, Jennifer McGavin, the Expert at About German Food, has compiled a list of Lent recipes from Germany. You can find Jennifer's recipes, as well as recipes from other About.com Food Experts, in Lenten Recipes: Meatless Recipes for Lent and Throughout the Year.
If you like fish, make sure to try Jennifer's delightful recipe for Baked Fish in Horseradish Sauce. It's easy to make, and very tasty!
More Lenten Resources:
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?