Lent is a period of 40 days of penance (excluding Sundays) in preparation for the solemn celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. As the Gospel continually reaffirms, penance is an important part of repentance. And, Our Lord provided us with an exemplary model by fasting and praying for 40 days and nights before beginning His public ministry. The concept of a 40-day period of preparation is found often in the Old Testament, such as the floodwaters in Noah’s day (Gn 7:12), Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:18), and how the Prophet Elijah fasted and journeyed to Mount Horeb for 40 days (1 Kings 19:8). The significance of the number forty in the plan of Divine Providence is illustrated by dozens of other references in the Old Testament.
For those Catholics who wish to more closely follow the ancient customs of the Church, Lent is a time of austere penance undertaken to make reparation to God for sin (our own sins and those of others), to grow in virtue and good works, and to comfort the Heart of our Savior so much offended by the proliferation of sin and filth increasing by the day.
Yet, there are very few Catholics who undertake the true discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. You, the remnant of the Catholic faithful, should at least attempt to observe the strictest of Lents. If you don’t, who will?
How many of us observe all 40 days as true fast days – and not just Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? Yet our ancestors certainly did. In fact, at various times and places of Christendom, it was forbidden to eat meat or any animal products (e.g., eggs, dairy, cheese, butter) or even fish through all of Lent. How many of us make this kind of more intense sacrifice? How many of us find the time during Lent to pray the Rosary every day or go to daily Mass or at least pray the Stations of the Cross each Friday?
We live in sad, pitiful times when few souls even care to observe Lent. The following prophetic words of Pope Benedict XIV (+ 1758) are coming true:
“The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.”
And yet, how many people indulge in public sin, lust, and gluttony on “Fat Tuesday”? Nowadays, few Catholics fast for all forty days; yet, many people gorge on Shrove Tuesday like there was no tomorrow. It is a mockery of the Faith! How many people fast by “light eating” on Ash Wednesday and then indulge on cheeseburgers on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, a Lenten feria day!
Even the great liturgist Father Dom Gueranger wrote of the excesses and sinfulness of Mardi Gras in his own time, in the 1800s. And how much worse it is in our times! He said in part:
“How far from being true children of Abraham are those so-called Christians who spend Quinquagesima [the Sunday before Ash Wednesday] and the two following days in intemperance and dissipation, because Lent is soon to be upon us!…”
It is a shame. It is a public scandal. And Our Lord Himself has asked for reparation.
In an approved apparition of our Blessed Lord to Mother Pierina in 1938, Our Lord said:
“See how I suffer. Nevertheless, I am understood by so few. What gratitude on the part of those who say they love Me. I have given My Heart as a sensible object of My great love for man and I give My Face as a sensible object of My Sorrow for the sins of man. I desire that it be honored by a special feast on Tuesday in Quinquagesima [Shrove Tuesday]. The feast will be preceded by a novena in which the faithful make reparation with Me uniting themselves with My sorrow.”
Thus, Our Lord wished for us to make amends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the last day of the period of Septuagesima, and yet so few people know of this. Living a liturgical life necessitates that we live true Lents – 40 days of fasting and abstinence from meat – and that we care enough to learn of these traditions. So when next Lent comes, I ask you – how can you observe a truly Catholic Lent? And what will you do on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in reparation for the sins of those who give in to carnal lusts during Mardi Gras?
The great Father Gueranger provides hundreds of meditations for Lent. Regarding the true uniqueness of the Lenten season, Father Gueranger writes:
“Each feria of Lent has a proper Mass; whereas, in Advent, the Mass of the preceding Sunday is repeated during the week. This richness of the Lenten liturgy is a powerful means for our entering into the Church’s spirit, since she hereby brings before us, under so many forms, the sentiments suited to this holy time… All this will provide us with most solid instruction; and as the selections from the Bible, which are each day brought before us, are not only some of the finest of the sacred volume, but are, moreover, singularly appropriate to Lent, their attentive perusal will be productive of a twofold advantage.”
After having given consideration to Advent, Lent, and Ember Days, I wish to share a final reflection on Rogation Days, another element of our liturgical life that has fallen by the wayside.
Rogation Days are the four days set apart to bless the fields and to invoke God’s mercy on all of creation. The four days are April 25th, which is called the Major Rogation (and is only coincidentally the same day as the Feast of St. Mark); and the three days preceding Ascension Thursday, which are called the Minor Rogation days. Traditionally, on these days, the congregation processes along the boundaries of the parish, blessing the trees and stones, while chanting or reciting a litany of mercy, usually the Litany of the Saints.
These were traditionally – that is, even before the changes that are reflected in the 1962 Missal – days of fasting and abstinence from meat. Besides keeping these days of penance, we can join in these processions when available. We can also pray special Rogation Days prayers. I personally try to go to a field of crops on April 25th where I pray the Litany of the Saints in keeping with the liturgical spirit for the Major Rogation.
Father Christopher Smith, a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, has put together a beautiful illustrated guide explaining both the Rogation Days and the Ember Days, with a number of very useful quotes from various liturgical sources.
 The Sundays in Lent are part of the Lenten season but they are not counted among the forty days of obligatory penance.
 This day is liturgically known as the Feast of Holy Face of Jesus of the Shroud of Turin, or Shrove Tuesday – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – but the worldly custom is to overeat in anticipation of the penitential fasting of the Lenten season. Far too many Catholics even consider this vice a pre-Lent “tradition.”
 Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) refers to events of celebration beginning on or after the Epiphany and ending on the day before Ash Wednesday.