Ideas for Lenten Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
Lent – founded upon the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – is the primary season of penance in the liturgical year and must be observed with the greatest strictness for the love of God, Who instituted this season for our healing. Due to the primordial importance of Lent, over time, the history and customs of observed prayers, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving has formed a definitive part of annual Catholic life. This Lent, adopt some of these – especially the fasting principles – which our forefathers in the Faith gladly observed.
We have covered the history of fasting, including Lenten fasting, in our series on the norms and history of fasting. Fasting today is a small vestige of the fasting that our forefathers willingly and joyfully offered in reparation for sin. (Why were our forefather’s able to adhere to more strict forms of fasting? See tomorrow’s article and join the discussion.)
This Lent, in keeping with those principles, I propose the following fasting regimen – which exceeds the minimum required by Church law – for those physically able to do so:
- Fasting applies for those age 18 or older (but not obligatory for those 60 years of age or older)
- Ash Wednesday and Good Friday: No solid food. Only black coffee, tea, or water.
- Mondays through Saturdays: Only one meal, preferably after sunset. A morning frustulum and evening collation are permitted but not required. No meat or animal products are allowed for anyone, regardless of age – that includes fish. No olive oil.
- Sundays: No meat or animal products allowed except on Lætare Exceptions for Palm Sunday are mentioned below.
- Annunciation Day (March 25) and Palm Sunday: Fish and olive oil permitted.
- Holy Week (except Good Friday): Only Bread, Salt, and Herbs are permitted for the main meal. Frustulum and collation permitted (of bread, herbs, and salt) but omitted if possible
- Holy Saturday: No food until Noon. Abstinence, including from all animal products, continues until Easter begins.
Lent also has a focus on prayer, and this thankfully is still seen by the many Catholics who gladly continue to pray the Stations of the Cross each Friday of Lent, which has indulgences attached to them for those who meet the required conditions. In addition to this practice, praying the indulgenced prayer to the Cross each Friday in Lent should be something more Catholics rediscover.
Additionally, dedicated to each day of Lent is a special stational church in Rome. These churches often have a connection to the Traditional Mass readings and prayers of that day – especially for catechumens – and reading about the daily stational churches is a worthwhile practice this Lent. Lent is also a great time to visit a Catholic cemetery and offer a Rosary or the Office of the Dead for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
Similarly, we would be remiss if we did not try to attend Holy Mass more often during this sacred season and, even for those days we cannot attend, read the prayers of the Missal since everyday of Lent has a proper Mass, as Dom Gueranger points out:
“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.”
In addition to prayer and fasting, almsgiving is one of the primary means of penance we perform during Lent. There is a custom in some churches in Europe of having alms boxes specifically for the Poor Souls. This is a custom that is not commonly known nowadays but one that we might encourage parishes in our own area to adopt.
Almsgiving refers to giving to the poor. By giving to the poor, we make reparation for sins as we see the person of Christ Himself in the poor. Though, while not strictly almsgiving, the giving of our time to visit the sick, the elderly, or those in prison also makes reparation for sin. Our Lord at the End of Time will judge everyone, and He will judge us according to the works of mercy we either did or failed to do. Everyone will be judged against them.
May the restoration in our own lives this Lent of increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving be for the glory of God and the glory of Christendom. May it help us make reparation to Our Lord and fulfill Our Lady of Fatima’s call for penance. For many more ideas, see 20 Practices to Observe During Lent.