Forty Days and Forty Nights
The forty days of Lent begin this Wednesday when ashes will be distributed at all Masses. The number forty has special spiritual significance in Scripture and is used to signify either a time of penitential preparation, or a time of punishment and affliction sent by God: it rained for forty days at the Flood, the Israelites wondered through the desert for forty years, the Ninivites had forty days in which to repent, and Our Lord spent forty days in the desert fasting in preparation for His public ministry. Similarly, these forty days of fasting and penance are our preparation for Easter.
Ash Wednesday proves to be very popular, as it is always one of the busiest days of the year in terms of people coming to church. The ashes are a sign of our repentance, our returning to God and a reminder of our mortality. This life is short and we need to work out our salvation now. Lent is also a time of intensified prayer, charitable works and penance. St Francis de Sales used to say that Lent is a time for us to make amends for the sins of the whole year!
Firstly, I would encourage you to go to Mass as often as possible during Lent, daily if you can, and offer up the graces for others. Say the Rosary daily. If you already do so, see if you can add a second one. Do your best to attend Stations of the Cross on a Friday evening. Come to the church during the day and pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Make a good Confession at least once during the season.
Then, we traditionally give up things we like, but we need to be realistic in what we choose. Can you sustain it for forty days? If you fail, don’t give up. Renew your resolution and start over again. It will still be hugely beneficial. And then don’t go around telling everyone what you’re doing, because you will lose the merit. Keep it between you and God.
Then we should also perform acts of charity. This could take the form of almsgiving, or as many of the spiritual writers say, being kind and charitable to someone who drives you up the wall is a far greater penance than giving something up. Pray for them and desire their good.
Then there is spiritual reading. We have the “Walk with Me” booklets to help with daily prayers, and there are also Lenten booklets at the Repository published by the Catholic Truth Society which you will find helpful.
Don’t let this Lent go to waste. We never know if it will be our last. When we’ve made a good Lent with many sacrifices and penances, Easter is always more joyous. So don’t be lukewarm.
A reminder also that Ash Wednesday together with Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence. Everyone is bound to abstain from meat. Catholics aged between 18 and 60 years are bound to fast. This means one full meal and perhaps a little food at a couple of points during the day. All Fridays throughout the year are days of abstinence.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC