I already put this text on line last year, but I think it is good to publish it again at the beginning of this new Lent season.
Et cum ieiunasset quadraginta diebus et quadraginta noctibus postea esuriit. Et accedens temptator dixit ei : si Filius Dei es, dic ut lapides isti panes fiant!
Qui respondens, dixit : scriptum est :non in pane solo vivet homo sed in omni verbo quod procedit de ore Dei
( Matthew, chapter 4 )
Our annual exercises of penance begin today for 40 days. During the Septuagesima time the Church reminded us of the necessity to join in the work of Redemption of Our Lord by the spirit of penance. Now it is time to take actions and to do penance. A spirit of penance without any proper act of penance would be an illusion or a kind of hypocrisy.
So, what do we have to do?
First, we must obey the Church who reminds us of something that we are inclined to forget easily:
Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way!
But as a good Mother and educator, She clarifies: In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
We must do penance, but when?
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
I would add, even if it is not any longer a canonical obligation, that it is also good to do penance during Ember days and vigil days for the faithful of the Traditional Latin Rite.
What kind of penance do we have to do?
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Who is bound by the law of abstinence and fasting?
Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority (18 years), until the beginning of their sixtieth year.
But the canon immediately adds: Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
So it is important to teach children how much penance is important in their life.
Can we do more than the strict obligation of the Law?
Sure, and you are encouraged by the Church to do more. But you have to be prudent. To do only what the Church command would be a sign of a certain laziness or of a lack of interest for your spiritual life, and finally a lack of love for God. But to do too much would be imprudent or even a sign of pride. In fact, it is good to ask your spiritual director or your confessor for advice.
Here are some examples of penance you can do during Lent :
- Go to Mass more often. If you cannot, read your Missal every day. There is a proper Mass each day during Lent.
- Go to confession more often
- Take more time for the care of your soul ( spiritual reading, meditation, prayer )
- In order to find this time, it would be good to renounce certain activities, as theater, television, parties…
- Give up something ( alcohol, tobacco, sweets…) A certain temperance and moderation is to be observed.
- Make some efforts about charity: helpfulness, visit sick or old persons…
Remember that penance is not an end in itself but a means to be more united to God, especially to Our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us. Beyond the materiality of our works of penance, a true spirit of love for Jesus Christ and for the souls should animate our penances. Giving up something is a good way to turn to Someone… Someone who loves us and who waits for us. That’s why Lent is not necessarily a time of sadness:
But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee (Mt 6, 17-18)
May God bless you during this Lent.
Father Laurent Demets, FSSP