The Holy Season of Lent will soon be upon us, the time prescribed by Holy Mother Church to unite ourselves to the Passion of Our Lord through prayer, fasting, and works.
Prayer is the foundation for a fruitful Lenten journey; without prayer, fasting and almsgiving have little to no value. While during Lent it is encouraged to partake in extra devotional prayers such as the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Seven Sorrows Rosary, and many others. These practices are very good and can be very fruitful.
In addition to devotional prayers, Lent is always a good time to evaluate one’s state in contemplative prayer. Ignatius of Loyola said, “We should speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, or a servant to his master, sometimes asking a favor, sometimes accusing ourselves of our faults, sometimes laying before Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our doubts, our projects, and our dispositions, and asking counsel from Him in all these things.”
Another form of prayer, the most important, is attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I would encourage all serious Catholics to read this article from 2020 on why Catholics should attend the Traditional Latin Mass during the season of Lent. This is the Mass of the Saints!
St. Augustine said: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity.”
Thomas Aquinas gives us three very solid reasons as to why we should fast, all taken from the Summa Theologica:
First, to conquer the passions of the flesh. The saint writes, “…in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh, wherefore the Apostle says (2 Corinthians 6:5-6): “In fasting, in chastity,” since fasting is the guardian of chastity. For…lust is cooled by abstinence in meat and drink.”
Secondly, to aid our minds to rise above material things and to contemplate heavenly realities. The saint writes, “…we have recourse to fasting in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things: hence it is related of Daniel (Daniel 10) that he received a revelation from God after fasting for three weeks.”
Third, to atone for our sins. The saint writes, “…in order to satisfy for sins: wherefore it is written (Joel 2:12): “Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning.”
One may determine for themselves if the current fasting law given by the Church is actually that sacrificial or not. We can be certain that in the Early Church, the faithful were not fasting on three meals, two of which could not equal the largest. But were instead scarcely partaking of some bread and water, if that. Fasting twice a year (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) is not equivalent to obtaining the freedom that St. Thomas Aquinas referred to in the above quotes. As Venerable Lucia dos Santos’ mother, Maria, always said “a little hunger is good for the soul.”
Almsgiving/Works of Mercy & Charity
One of the acts of Lent given to us by the Church is almsgiving. Simply, almsgiving is that sacrifice of income, more than that of weekly tithing, it is a true sacrifice. Almsgiving can also be accomplished through acts of mercy and charity that do not necessarily involve giving a sacrificial portion of one’s income to a worthy cause; the Lepanto Institute has this list of orthodox and wholesome institutions that can be trusted with your monetary support.
The truest sense of almsgiving is the giving of oneself for the service of Christ and the Church. This is accomplished by performing the Works of Mercy as defined by the Church, which can be read in full here. Arguably, these works are more sacrificial and nourishing for the soul than the traditional type of almsgiving.
Basil the Great once remarked, “The bread you store up belongs to the hungry; the cloak that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.” And Francis of Assisi said, “for it is in giving we receive.” These quotes go hand-in-hand and get to the truest sense of what the Church means by almsgiving and completing works of mercy.
A Final Word on Silence and Merit
Lent is a time to unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ, a suffering that while taking place was very much silent. Likewise, we are called to remain silent during the season of Lent and during any other time that we take on additional prayers, days of fasting, or complete some charitable work. For if we go out into the street and tell all that we are doing in an attempt to boost our ego, these acts have no merit and have instead been replaced by the sin of pride. Make this Lent a true sacrifice with prayer, fasting, works, and silence. For the man who answers the call of Christ to pick up his own cross, it is he who will be rewarded with much merit, grace, and holiness.