Friday, 8 February 2013

The countdown to Lent...

Lent is but a few days away now, so if you haven't already done so, it is a good time to start thinking about what you are going to do by way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving!

What to do for a Lenten penance: pray the psalms of Tenebrae?

We are of course, required to do some penitential on all the days of Lent (ie except for Sundays and the couple of solemnities that occur during the period), and my personal favourite for this is always doing something around praying the psalms.

The psalms are the great prayer book of the Church, and in past years I've suggested saying some or all of the Penitential Psalms, or working your way through the longest psalm of them all, Psalm 118.  Saying a psalm a day prayerfully might make a good Lenten penance I think.

This year I I'd tackle the psalms set for Tenebrae, the ancient Office of Matins and Lauds traditionally said for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  I'll try and provide some notes on one of the psalms of this Office here each day (more on this soon).

Still, whatever formal penitential act you decide on, that surely shouldn't be the be all and end all of your Lenten regime; rather just one plank of your preparation for Easter.


Doing something extra by way of prayer for Lent is a strong tradition, and attending daily Mass is an obvious option where that is possible.  Alternatively, saying some (more) of the Divine Office might be worth considering - or as I've suggested above, perhaps meditating on one psalm a day.

Another option is to adopt the Benedictine practice of reading a spiritual book from beginning to end.  Scripture is always appropriate for this, though many people choose to read or reread a spiritual classic such as the imitation of Christ, so it's time to think about and organize your book!

Fasting and abstinence

Traditionally, of course, Lent was the start of a fairly strict fast, hence the tradition of pancake Tuesday to use up all those eggs and dairy products you wouldn't be eating for a while!

These days, of course, Latin Catholics (though I believe Eastern ones still follow a stricter regime) are only required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and practice abstinence on those days as well as the Fridays of Lent.

Still, doing something extra by way of fasting and abstinence - cutting back the number of days you meat, giving up alcohol, or cutting out sweets is surely an essential part of a Lenten regime, even if you aren't going to go completely meatless.


The third traditional practice is almsgiving, so consider who you can (ethically) donate to.  And should you be unemployed or otherwise genuinely too poor to spare much cash, think about what time you could donate to a worthy cause, or some other form of spiritual alms you could offer.

Other suggestions?

I'm always intrigued to hear of the various Lenten penances people adopt - such as giving up booze, tv, sweets and so forth.

So do share your suggestions...


Collin Michael Nunis said...

Eastern disciplinary laws in the Catholic Church usually differ between the sui iuris Churches.

For us Melkites, the traditional rule we'll be looking at is fasting from midnight till noon, no meat, no dairy, no oil, no meat products, no wine, and no fish (except on Sunday). However, this rule has been "softened" (I don't know why) to fasting from midnight till noon, and abstinence from meat, meat products, and cheese. And we can have fish only on Sundays.

Kate Edwards said...

I assume fasting means literally fasting, as in no food at all from midnight to noon? Do you know the reason for this? Certainly sounds like something we Latins could usefully copy...though the no meat, dairy, oil, wine or fish regime sounds pretty tough!

A Canberra Observer said...

what do the butchers and dairy farmers and fishermen do?

Maureen said...

I have an unashamed weakness for buying new balls of lovely thread - to turn into Lace. Not buying ANY thread for the whole 6 weeks will be so hard - if I can manage to do it, I will be able to donate the cash I would otherwise have spent to the group I most like to support.
And I am trying very hard to enter into the spirit of it by NOT putting in a large order on Monday morning.....
One year I decided I was going to Give Up all Lace Making for Lent, because I was enjoying it so much. However, that was a step too far, and made me grumpy. Maybe I could refrain from my craft on one day in the week instead.

Country Priest said...

Great post Kate, if a little deflating. I thought my suggestion to read a good book this Lent was a brilliant original insight. (Not really!) But I didn't know it's an ancient Benedictine practice!

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Father - I'd missed your post, but a case of great minds!

St Benedict's chapter on the observance of Lent (49) in his Rule urges us to do something to 'expurgate the negligences of other times', including something beyond the normal on private prayer; abstinence from food and drink; and stinting oneself on food, drink, sleep, talk and jesting.

But he also has the abbot give each monk a book from the library to read right through at the beginning of Lent (ch 48) - and has some monks patrolling around at reading time to make sure everyone is actually doing it!

Collin Michael Nunis said...

Hi Kate, literally fasting - no food from midnight till noon.

It is going to be difficult, especially for gym-goers like myself, but I'm looking forward to this time of grace. :)

I think the butchers, farmers, and fishermen will still be in business seeing that Eastern Catholics are still a minority in this country. ;)

A Canberra Observer said...

Thanks Colin, though I should have been more precise in my question - how do they survive lent in an observant eastern rite country ?

Collin Michael Nunis said...

Most episcopal synods would define a "mitigated" or "minimal" fast whereby most people would just abstain from meat, and meat products. The strict traditional rules for fasting are more commonly practiced in the monasteries rather than in simple homes.

On another note, there are a great variety of fast-friendly dishes cooked up by our Lebanese friends. I suggest going to a Lebanese restaurant and asking for fast-friendly dishes.