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LENT IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

 

The season of Lent is a Catholic liturgical season consisting of forty days of fasting, prayer, and penitence beginning at Ash Wednesday and concluding at sundown on Holy Thursday. The official liturgical color for the season of Lent is violet.

The observance of Lent is related to the celebration of Easter. In the first three centuries of the Christian era, most Christians prepared for Easter by fasting and praying for three days. In some places this was extended to the entire week before Easter (now known as “Holy Week”). There is evidence that in Rome, the length of preparation was three weeks.

The word derives from the Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime – the time of lengthening days. There is biblical support for doing penance, but the season of Lent, like all Catholic liturgical seasons, developed over time. In its early three-week form, Lent was the period of intense spiritual and liturgical preparation for catechumens before they were baptized at Easter. Many members of the community imitated this time of preparation with the catechumens.

By the fourth century (when Christianity was legalized) Lent had developed into its current length of forty days, the length of the fast and temptation of Jesus in the desert (cf. Luke 4:1-13). Recently, research has suggested that the development of Lent was also influenced by the forty-day span of fasting practiced by many in the early Church (especially monks). This fast, beginning right after Epiphany (January 6th) stressed prayer and penance. Once most people were Christian and baptized as infants, Lent lost the connection to the preparation of catechumens and the themes of repentance and fasting became dominant.

ASH WEDNESDAY

Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular and important holy days in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer. Ash Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday, and is chiefly observed by Catholics, although many other Christians observe it too. Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person's forehead, he speaks the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Alternatively, the priest may speak the words, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."  Ashes also symbolize grief, in this case, grief that we have sinned and caused division from God.

Writings from the Second-century Church refer to the wearing of ashes as a sign of penance.

Priests administer ashes during Mass and all are invited to accept the ashes as a visible symbol of penance. Even non-Christians and the excommunicated are welcome to receive the ashes. The ashes are made from blessed palm branches, taken from the previous year's palm Sunday Mass.

It is important to remember that Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting. Some faithful take the rest of the day off work and remain home. It is generally inappropriate to dine out, to shop, or to go about in public after receiving the ashes. Feasting is highly inappropriate. Small children, the elderly and sick are exempt from this observance.

t is not required that a person wear the ashes for the rest of the day, and they may be washed off after Mass. However, many people keep the ashes as a reminder until the evening.

Recently, movements have developed that involve pastors distributing ashes to passersby in public places. This isn't considered taboo, but Catholics should know this practice is distinctly Protestant. Catholics should still receive ashes within the context of Mass.

In some cases, ashes may be delivered by a priest or a family member to those who are sick or shut-in.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.

 

Why we receive the ashes

Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told

"Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.

The Ashes

The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.

 

Lenten Regulations

The Catholic Church, in an attempt to help Catholics do at least a minimum during Lent, asks all Catholics to fast and abstain from meat on certain days. Fasting means to limit food to one full meal a day with the possibility of two smaller meals (not adding up to a full meal) as needed. Abstinence means not eating meat, although fish is allowed. Catholics are asked to observe all days of fasting and abstinence which is one of the precepts of the Church.

Catholics 14 years of age or older are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. Catholics

between the ages of 14 and 59 are also to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If one’s work or health make it inadvisable to fast or abstain from meat, they are not obligated to do so.

At one time, people gave up all dairy products and meat during all of the Lenten season. Since chickens continue to produce eggs and cows milk, the custom developed to make the milk into cheese and color the eggs so that when Easter arrived, no food would be wasted.

 

When does Lent begin?

Traditionally, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Since this is more than forty days, some contend that Sundays are not counted and that Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are counted instead. Others say that it begins on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. No one is exactly sure how Ash Wednesday became the first day of Lent.

Many Catholics were taught as children to “give up something” for Lent. The sacrifices in Lent are really penance, in the same spirit as the Ninehvites that repented at the preaching of Jonah. Throughout our history, Christians have found prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to be an important part of repentance and renewal. Many Catholics now add something during Lent rather than giving up something, either to address personal habits that need work or to add some outreach to others in need.

It is not necessary to “give up something” but it would be a tragedy to do nothing.

Do Sundays count as a part of Lent?

Sundays in Lent are not considered part of the forty (40) days of the Lenten season and therefore one is not required to uphold one’s Lenten penitence. For example, if you gave up eating desserts for Lent, you may have a piece of cake on a Sunday.

The forty days of Lent are considered to be Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday (up until the Easter Vigil in which it becomes the Easter Season) not including the six Sundays throughout.

Why are Sundays not a part of Lent?

Sundays, even during Lent, are a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and are not part of the penitential season. We rejoice in the resurrection of the Lord on Sundays. If you feel that forsaking your Lenten sacrifices on Sundays is like cheating then you are encouraged to maintain your sacrifices. A person is certainly free to continue one’s Lenten sacrifices on Sundays, but the Catholic Church does not require anyone to do this.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified.

Palm Sunday is known as such because the faithful will often receive palm fronds which they use to participate in the reenactment of Christ's arrival in Jerusalem. In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect.

Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday.

The use of a donkey instead of a horse is highly symbolic, it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a steed in war.

A week later, Christ would rise from the dead on the first Easter.

During Palm Sunday Mass, palms are distributed to parishioners who carry them in a ritual procession into church. The palms are blessed and many people will fashion them into small crosses or other items of personal devotion. These may be returned to the church, or kept for the year.

Because the palms are blessed, they may not be discarded as trash. Instead, they are appropriately gathered at the church and incinerated to create the ashes that will be used in the follow year's Ash Wednesday observance.

The colors of the Mass on Palm Sunday are red and white, symbolizing the redemption in blood that Christ paid for the world.

HOLY WEEK

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the first joy of the season, as we celebrate Our Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week, with the greatest tragedy and sorrow of the year.

Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem is only one side of the story.

By now many of the Jews are filled with hate for Our Lord. They want to see him stoned, calling Him a blasphemer, especially after offering proof of His Divinity during a winter visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication.

After this, Jesus went to Perea, where he was summoned to Bethany. There he raised Lazarus from the dead, a miracle which wins Him such renown among certain Pharisees that they decided finally to end His life.

Jesus took refuge at Ephrem returning six days before Passover to Bethany, triumphantly entering Jerusalem. That evening, He leaves Jerusalem and returns Monday. He spent time with Gentiles in the Temple, and on Wednesday left for the Mount of Olives. Here he foretold the apostles the events of the next several days, including His impending death.

He returned to Jerusalem on Thursday, to share the Last Supper with His apostles. He was subsequently arrested and tried. He was crucified at Calvary on Friday, outside the gates of Jerusalem.

He was buried the same day, and arose three days later, on Easter Sunday.

All of this is done by our Lord for forgiveness of our sins, and for life everlasting with Him.

God so loved us, that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us, so that our sins maybe forgiven.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, when he established the sacrament of Holy Communion prior to his arrest and crucifixion. It also commemorates His institution of the priesthood. The holy day falls on the Thursday before Easter and is part of Holy Week. Jesus celebrated the dinner as a Passover feast. Christ would fulfill His role as the Christian victim of the Passover for all to be saved by His final sacrifice.

The Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his Disciples in Jerusalem. During the meal, Jesus predicts his betrayal.

The central observance of Holy Thursday is the ritual reenactment of the Last Supper at Mass. This event is celebrated at every Mass, as party of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but it is specially commemorated on Holy Thursday.

He also establishes the special priesthood for his disciples, which is distinct from the "priesthood of all believers." Christ washed the feet of his Disciples, who would become the first priests.

This establishment of the priesthood reenacted at Mass with the priest washing the feet of several parishioners.

During the Passover meal, Jesus breaks bread and gives it to his Disciples, uttering the words, "This is my body, which is given for you." Subsequently, he passes a cup filled with wine. He then says, "This is my blood..." It is believed those who eat of Christ's flesh and blood shall have eternal life.

During the Mass, Catholics rightly believe, as an article of faith, that the unleavened bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ through a process known as transubstantiation. There have been notable Eucharistic miracles attributed to this event, such as bleeding hosts (communion wafers).

The Last Supper is celebrated daily in the Catholic Church as part of every Mass for it is through Christ's sacrifice that we have been saved.

On the night of Holy Thursday, Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place where the faithful remain in the presence of the Eucharist just as the Disciples kept a vigil with Christ.

Following the Last Supper, the disciples went with Jesus to the Mount of Olives, where he would be betrayed by Judas.

The Last Supper has been the subject of art for centuries, including the great masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci.

The cup used by Jesus is known as the Holy Grail. Although it has been rumored to exist throughout history, it is almost certainly lost to time. There is no reason to believe the cup would have been outstanding in any way, and was likely a typical drinking vessel, indistinguishable from many others. Still, many myths continue to revolve around the artifact, and it remains a target for treasure seekers and a subject of entertainment. There is an incalculable abundance of art and tradition surrounding the Last Supper which has been celebrated by Christians since the last days of Christ until now.

At every hour of every day, somewhere around the world, Mass is being said and Communion taken. This has been happening incessantly for at least several hundred years. For nearly the past two thousand years, not a single day has gone by without a Mass being celebrated in some fashion. Therefore, anyone who celebrates the Mass participates in a daily tradition that is essentially two thousand years old.

During Lent, we should; live as children of the light, performing actions good, just and true - (see Ep 5:1-9).

Nos autem gloriari oportet in cruce Domini nostri Iesu Christi, 
in quo est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra per quem salvati et liberati sumus. 

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, 
our life and our resurrection; through Him we are saved and made free. (cf. Galations 6:14)

Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday

HOLY THURSDAY is the most complex and profound of all religious observances, saving only the Easter Vigil. It celebrates both the institution by Christ himself of the Eucharist and of the institution of the sacerdotal priesthood (as distinct from the 'priesthood of all believers') for in this, His last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover, He is the self-offered Passover Victim, and every ordained priest to this day presents this same sacrifice, by Christ's authority and command, in exactly the same way. The Last Supper was also Christ's farewell to His assembled disciples, some of whom would betray, desert or deny Him before the sun rose again.

On Holy Thursday there is a special Mass in Cathedral Churches, attended by as many priests of the diocese as can attend, because it is a solemn observance of Christ's institution of the priesthood. At this 'Chrism Mass' the bishop blesses the Oil of Chrism used for Baptism and Confirmation. The bishop may wash the feet of twelve of the priests, to symbolize Christ's washing the feet of his Apostles, the first priests.

The Holy Thursday liturgy, celebrated in the evening because Passover began at sundown, also shows both the worth God ascribes to the humility of service, and the need for cleansing with water (a symbol of baptism) in the Mandatum, or washing in Jesus' washing the feet of His disciples, and in the priest's stripping and washing of the altar. Cleansing, in fact, gave this day of Holy Week the name Maundy Thursday.

The action of the Church on this night also witnesses to the Church's esteem for Christ's Body present in the consecrated Host in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, carried in solemn procession to the flower-bedecked Altar of Repose, where it will remain 'entombed' until the communion service on Good Friday. No Mass will be celebrated again in the Church until the Easter Vigil proclaims the Resurrection.

And finally, there is the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by the people during the night, just as the disciples stayed with the Lord during His agony on the Mount of Olives before the betrayal by Judas.

There is such an abundance of symbolism in the solemn celebration of the events of Holy Thursday layer upon layer, in fact that we can no more than hint at it in these few words. For many centuries, the Last Supper of Our Lord has inspired great works of art and literature, such as the glorious stained glass window in Chartres cathedral (above), Leonardo's ever popular (and much imitated) Last Supper in the 16th century, and the reminiscence called Holy Thursday, by the French novelist, Franasois Mauriac, written in the 1930s. (A chapter of Mauriac's meditation was reprinted in Voices, Lent-Easter 2002, with permission from Sophia Institute Press).

Family Activities for Holy Thursday

When you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death, until He comes again. 
I Corinthians 11:26

  1. We have prepared a Christian adaptation of a Passover Seder, simple enough for use in families with young children. This special meal stresses the Christian significance of elements of the traditional Jewish Passover meal (seder) as it may have been celebrated in our Lord's time. It is neither a re-enactment of the Last Supper, nor a Jewish service. But we believe this festive family meal can be a very expressive way of helping young children to understand more about the historic origins of their faith as well as the importance of this day of Holy Week. (This is in the full edition of the Family Sourcebook for Lent and Easter.You may make photocopies of the service so everyone can have one.)
  2. Maundy Thursday's emphasis on ritual washing also gave rise to the ancient tradition of spring cleaning, evidently related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover. Everything was to be cleaned and polished in preparation for the Easter celebration. You can tell children about this tradition and ask to them to clean their rooms in order to observe Maundy Thursday. (Be sure to let us know if this works!)
  3. Adults and children who are old enough to accompany their parents can return to Church after Mass for a period of Adoration. If this is not possible, candles can be lighted and special prayers could be said after returning from Mass and before bedtime. To give you some ideas, we have included suggestions for the Stations of the Cross.

 

GOOD FRIDAY

Good Friday is the day on which Catholics commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Catholics are joined by almost all other Christians in solemn commemoration on this day. It is also a legal holiday around much of the world.

According to the gospels, Jesus was betrayed by Judas on the night of the Last Supper, commemorated on Holy Thursday. The morning following Christ's arrest, he was brought before Annas, a powerful Jewish cleric. Annas condemned Jesus for blasphemy for refusing to repudiate Annas' words that He was the Son of God. From there, Jesus was sent toPontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the province.

Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus but found no reason to condemn Him. Instead, he suggested Jewish leaders deal with Jesus according to their own law. But under Roman law, they could not execute Jesus, so they appealed to Pilate to issue the order to kill Jesus.

Pilate appealed to King Herod, who found no guilt in Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate once again. Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent, and washed his hands to show that he wanted nothing to do with Jesus, but the crowds were enraged. To prevent a riot and to protect his station, Pilate reluctantly agreed to execute Jesus and sentenced him to crucifixion. Jesus was convicted of proclaiming himself to be the King of the Jews.

Before his execution, Jesus was flogged, which was a customary practice intended to weaken a victim before crucifixion. Crucifixion was an especially painful method of execution and was perfected by the Romans as such. It was reserved for the worst criminals, and generally Roman citizens, women, and soldiers were exempt in most cases.

During his flogging, the soldiers tormented Jesus, crowning Him with thorns and ridicule.

Following his flogging, Jesus was compelled to carry his cross to the place of His execution, at Calvary. During his walk to the site of His execution, Jesus fell three times and the Roman guards randomly selected Simon, a Cyrene, to help Jesus.

After arrival at Calvary, Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified between two thieves. One of the thieves repented of his sins and accepted Christ while on the cross beside Him. A titulus, or sign, was posted above Christ to indicate His supposed crime. The titulus read, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." It is commonly abbreviated in Latin as "INRI" (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum).

During Christ's last few hours on the cross, darkness fell over the whole land. Jesus was given a sponge with sour wine mixed with gall, a weak, bitter painkiller often given to crucified victims.

Prior to death, Jesus spoke His last words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This line is the opening of Psalm 22, and it may have been common practice to recite lines of songs to deliver a greater message. Properly understood, the last words of Christ were triumphant. Guards then lanced Jesus' side to ensure He was dead.

At the moment of Christ's death, an earthquake occurred, powerful enough to open tombs. The long, thick curtain at the Temple was said to have torn from top to bottom.

Following the incredible events of the day, the body of Christ was removed from the cross and laid in a donated tomb, buried according to custom.

The events of Good Friday are commemorated in the Stations of the Cross, a 14-step devotion often performed by Catholics during Lent and especially on Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross are commonly recited on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. Another devotional, the Acts of Reparation, may also be prayed.

Good Friday is a day of fasting within the Church. Traditionally, there is no Mass and no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. A liturgy may still be performed and communion, if taken, comes from hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday. Baptism, penance, and anointing of the sick may be performed, but only in unusual circumstances. Church bells are silent. Altars are left bare.

Veneration of the Cross

from The Reproaches

Good Friday ideas for families

  1. The Cross - The Sign of the Cross - The Crucifix, Crosses and Symbols of Christ
  2. On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes her gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Good Friday, in the Adoration of the Cross, in the chanting of the 'Reproaches', in the reading of the Passion, and in receiving the pre-consecrated Host, we unite ourselves to our Savior, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord.
  3. The Church - stripped of its ornaments, the altar bare, and with the door of the empty tabernacle standing open - is as if in mourning. In the fourth century the Apostolic Constitutions described this day as a 'day of mourning, not a day of festive joy,' and this day was called the 'Pasch (passage) of the Crucifixion.'

The liturgical observance of this day of Christ's suffering, crucifixion and death evidently has been in existence from the earliest days of the Church. No Mass is celebrated on this day, but the service of Good Friday is called the Mass of the Presanctified because Communion (in the species of bread) which had already been consecrated on Holy Thursday is given to the people.

Traditionally, the organ is silent from Holy Thursday until the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil , as are all bells or other instruments, the only music during this period being unaccompanied chant.

The omission of the prayer of consecration deepens our sense of loss because Mass throughout the year reminds us of the Lord's triumph over death, the source of our joy and blessing. The desolate quality of the rites of this day reminds us of Christ's humiliation and suffering during his Passion. We can see that the parts of the Good Friday service correspond to the divisions of Mass:

    1. Liturgy of the Word - reading of the Passion.
    2. Intercessory prayers for the Church and the entire world, Christian and non-Christian.
    3. Veneration of the Cross
    4. Communion, or the 'Mass of the Pre-Sanctified.'

The Veneration of the Cross

In the seventh century, the Church in Rome adopted the practice of Adoration of the Cross from the Church in Jerusalem, where a fragment of wood believed to be the Lord's cross had been venerated every year on Good Friday since the fourth century. According to tradition, a part of the Holy Cross was discovered by the mother of the emperor Constantine, St. Helen, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326. A fifth century account describes this service in Jerusalem. A coffer of gold-plated silver containing the wood of the cross was brought forward. The bishop placed the relic on the a table in the chapel of the Crucifixion and the faithful approached it, touching brow and eyes and lips to the wood as the priest said (as every priest has done ever since): 'Behold, the Wood of the Cross.'

Adoration or veneration of an image or representation of Christ's cross does not mean that we are actually adoring the material image, of course, but rather what it represents. In kneeling before the crucifix and kissing it we are paying the highest honor to the our Lord's cross as the instrument of our salvation. Because the Cross is inseparable from His sacrifice, in reverencing His Cross we are, in effect, adoring Christ. Thus we affirm: 'We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou has Redeemed the World.'

The Reproaches and the Reading of the Passion

The Reproaches (Improperia), are often chanted by a priest during the Good Friday service as the people are venerating the Cross. In this haunting and poignant poem-like chant of very ancient origin, Christ himself 'reproaches' us, making us more deeply aware of how our sinfulness and hardness of heart caused such agony for our sinless and loving Savior. A modern translation of the some of the Reproaches, originally in Latin follows:

My people, What have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!
I led you out of Egypt; but you led your Savior to the Cross.
For forty years I led you safely through the desert,
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to the land of plenty; But you led your Savior to the Cross.
O, My people! What have I done to you that you should testify against me?

Holy God. Holy God. Holy Mighty One. Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.

Three times during Holy Week the Passion is read - on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. By very ancient tradition, three clergy read the three principal parts from the sanctuary: Jesus (always read by a priest), Narrator, and all the other individual parts. The people also have a role in this - we are those who condemn the Lord to death. Hearing our own voices say 'Away with Him! Crucify him!' heightens our consciousness of our complicity by our personal sinfulness in causing His death.

Good Friday Ideas for Families

Catholic schools will be closed on Good Friday so the children will be able to participate in family observances of this solemn day. If possible, the entire family should attend Good-Friday services together, or at least make a trip to Church to make the Stations of the Cross (see section on Stations). Following are a few other suggestions.

Hot Cross Buns. The familiar hot cross buns are sweet rolls with the sign of the cross cut into it, and they are one of several traditional European breads marked with a cross for Good Friday. According to tradition, these buns originated at St Alban's Abbey in 1361, where the monks gave them to the poor people who came there. (You may have your own recipe for sweet-rolls to which you can add currants or raisins before shaping and cut a cross in the top before baking; or you can buy them.) These Good Friday buns were very popular, and were sold by vendors who cried, 
Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns! One a-penny two a-penny, Hot cross buns! If you have no daughters, give 'em to your sons! One a-penny two a-penny, Hot cross buns!

  1. The Three Hours. Some churches hold prayer services during the three hours of Christ's suffering on the Cross. It would be appropriate to observe a period of silence at home, for devotional reading and private prayer (e.g., no radio, television, etc.), especially between the hours of noon and 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
  2. Each member of the family might choose a particularly unpleasant job which has been put off for a long time - like cleaning the garage or a closet, or scrubbing the bathrooms (we're sure you can think of something!)- to emphasize the dreariness apropriate to the day.
  3. Good Friday was thought to be a good day for planting seeds (a reference to the Gospel about the seeds which must be planted in the ground to bear fruit as a metaphor for Christ's necessary death and His burial on this day) so if the weather permits, this could be a worthwhile activity with children. (Don't forget to explain the symbolism.)
  4. With very young children keeping silence during the Three Hours is virtually impossible. You might help them make a miniature Garden of Joseph of Arimathea in the yard. Mother or Father can teach children about the circumstances of Christ's burial and resurrection from the tomb by telling the the story of Joseph, Christ's friend who donated the new tomb where Jesus' body was buried after He was taken down from the Cross. Children can gather small stones, sticks, acorns. etc., for the little garden.
  5. Older children can be given a drawing or coloring project. Perhaps they could draw one or more of the Stations of the Cross. (See also sections on the Cross and Christ symbols).

The Cross

'Lord, by thy Cross and Resurrection thou hast redeemed the world'

In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Lent is a particularly appropriate time to attempt to penetrate the true meaning of this sacred image represents through prayerful contemplation; and to study the traditions surrounding the Christian symbol of the Cross.

Looking at the Cross in prayer helps us to truly see it. Most Christians have crosses in their homes. Many wear a cross around their necks. Some of these are very beautiful, perhaps made of precious metal and embellished with jewels. The beauty of these devotional objects may emphasize the glory and the victory of Our Lord's Cross; but too often representations of this central symbol of our faith are regarded primarily as decorative, and its true message is lost.

It is fitting that Christians glorify the Cross as a sign of Christ's resurrection and victory over sin and death, of course. But we should remember each time we see a cross that the Cross of Jesus' crucifixion was an emblem of physical anguish and personal defilement, not triumph-of debasement and humiliation, not glory-of degradation and shame, not beauty. It was a means of execution, like a gallows or a gas chamber. What the Son of God endured for us was the depth of ugliness and humiliation. We need to be reminded of the tremendous personal cost of love.

As Lent advances we contemplate the redeeming Mystery of the Cross which aids the Church in her pursuit of the renewal of the faithful. The image of the Cross may help each of us to learn more fully the meaning of Christ's sacrifice, and how we are to imitate His example. We can hope that our prayers which focus on the Crucifixion of our Lord will help atone for our own sins and the many grave sins of our society.

The Sign of the Cross

The season of Lent is a most appropriate time for children of all ages to learn more about one of the most distinctively Catholic prayers: the sign of the cross. It is a visible sign (a sacramental) of one's belief in Christ and of one's hope in the redemption which flows from His Cross. Accompanied by the invocation of the Trinity (Doxology), 'In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit', making a sign of the cross is a simple and beautiful form of Christian devotion. By making this sign both in public and in private we affirm our faith in Christ crucified and ask for His blessing and protection. It is also a gesture of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament.

This Christian sign is a very ancient one, mentioned by the early Fathers of the Church as being a habitual practice by the second century. Tertullian recounts that 'in all our travels in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.' This sign or mark on the forehead of consecration to Christ has an antecedent in Ezekiel's prophetic vision of judgment, in which the Lord commands that a 'mark be set upon the foreheads' of the Israelites who cry out against the evil which surrounds them, so that by this mark God's people were identified as belonging to Him and saved from annihilation (Ezekiel: 9:4-6). Other biblical references to 'sealing' God's people with a sign on their heads are found in the Apocalypse (or Revelations) 7:4, 9:4.

This sacramental 'mark' is important to Catholic people to this day. We are anointed, at baptism and at confirmation, by the priest making the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the Oil of Chrism (the oil blessed by bishops at the Mass of Chrism on Holy Thursday). The sign and the chrism are is also used at the ordination of a priest or bishop. In administering the sacrament of the sick the priest anoints the person with the sign of the cross made with blessed oil. Also, on Ash Wednesday, our foreheads are marked by the priest with the sign of the cross made with blessed palm ashes.

Another form of the sign of the cross is made by the priest several times during the celebration of Mass and when he grants absolution and gives other priestly blessings, by making an invisible cross with the the first two fingers and thumb of his right hand extended. A similar gesture of blessing is made when a priest blesses religious objects (these objects used in worship are also called sacramentals), such as rosaries, medals, vestments and articles used used in connection with Mass.

Parents find that even infants can learn to make the sign of the cross, and try to imitate what they see family members doing at the blessing before meals even before they can talk. Try to encourage use of this sign at bedtime prayers, too, when you can explain what it means.

The two forms of the sign of the cross used by most Catholics are:

  1. The Great Sign of the Cross: (This is the one most people think of, and the one people use most often.) A cross is traced with the right hand, touching the forehead, the chest, then the left and right shoulder. [In Orthodox churches, from right to left.] The Doxology is said aloud or silently as the sign is made.
  2. The Little Sign of the Cross: A cross is made on the forehead with the thumb or index finger (this form is used by the priest when anointing or administering ashes). Or a cross is traced with the thumb on one's own head, lips and heart, a gesture which asks Christ to instruct our minds, aid us in our witness, and renew our hearts. (This sign is made at the reading of the Gospel by both priest and people.)

Some suggestions for helping to increase children's awareness of this devotion are:

  1. Give your children a new medal, and ask the priest to bless it for them while they are present.
  2. Have holy water at home for making this sign 'in all our coming in and going out.'
  3. Before going to Mass, ask the children to notice the different forms of the sign of the cross used during the celebration by the priest and by the people.

The Crucifix, Crosses and Symbols of Christ

The most quintessentially Catholic object of devotion is a crucifix-a cross (Latin: crux) with the image of Christ's body nailed to it. Crucifixes are always found in Catholic churches and chapels over the altar and are always carried in liturgical processions. This image is venerated by the faithful in a special ceremony on Good Friday. They are a customary fixture in every room and office of Catholic institutions (schools, hospitals), and on the walls of Catholic homes. This form of representing the Cross of our Lord adorns Rosaries, prayer-books, private altars, vestments, and many other devotional articles; also the Pectoral Cross worn by a bishop as a sign of office. The Pope's ceremonial staff has a crucifix attached to it (unlike an ordinary bishop's staff, which is formed like a shepherd's crook.) A crucifix is frequently worn by Catholics on a neck-chain.A less common form of the crucifix bears an image of Christ glorified, wearing the vestments of a priest and with his arms extended in blessing.

One way to help increase children's reverence and love for Christ and his cross is to introduce them to traditional Christian symbols. Help them draw several kinds of crosses in addition to the Crucifix (with Christ's body, or 'corpus') -- such as the Chi Rho, the first two Greek letters in 'Christ' (looks like a capital P with an X through the elongated tail ), the Latin Cross, the Jerusalem Cross, the Greek Cross, the St. Andrew Cross (an X shape). You might look for various types of crosses in churches, on vestments, and in other places.

Introduce children to New Testament symbols of Christ such as the Lamb, the door, the lamp, etc., Ask them to draw these symbols themselves and then color them. Display them on the refrigerator or in their rooms after they have finished.

  1. THE LAMB
    John 1: 29: The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him, and he said: 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'
  2. THE DOOR
    John 10: 1-2, 7-9 : 'Amen, amen, I say to you, he who enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up another way, is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. Those others who have come are thieves and robbers. I am the door. If anyone enter by me he shall find salvation, and shall go in and out, and shall find pastures.'
  3. THE LAMP
    Isaiah 62: 1: 'For Sion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest till her Just One come forth as brightness , and her Saviour be lighted as a lamp.'
    John 8: 12 : 'I am the light of the world.'
  4. THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE
    John 19: 33-34 'When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead they did not break his legs; but one of the soldiers opened his side with a lance, and immediately blood and water flowed out.' 
  5. THE TRUE VINE
    John 15: 1-3, 5 : 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away; and every branch that bears fruit he trims clean, that it may bear more fruit. I am the vine, you are the branches; He that abides in me brings forth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing. 
  6. THE BREAD OF LIFE
    John 6:35, 48: Jesus said unto them, 'I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger. I am that bread of life.'

EASTER SUNDAY

Easter is the celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. It is celebrated on Sunday, and marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, the last day of the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday), and is the beginning of the Easter season of the liturgical year.

As we know from the Gospels, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion, which would be Sunday. His resurrection marks the triumph of good over evil, sin and death. It is the singular event which proves that those who trust in God and accept Christ will be raised from the dead.

Since Easter represents the fulfillment of God's promises to mankind, it is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar.

In the Gospels, the precise details of the Easter narrative vary slightly, but none of these variances are critical to the main story. In fact, it is argued that the variances are simply matters of style and not substance. Despite the variances, the key aspects of the Easter story all match. Above all, they agree that the tomb of Christ was indeed empty, which is the most essential fact.

Based on direct evidence from the mid-second century, it is believed that Easter was regularly celebrated from the earliest days of the Church.

The Easter date is movable and always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Easter in the Roman Catholic Church is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

 

Most Catholics attend Easter Vigil at midnight, although the services can be lengthy because many sacraments are performed, such as baptisms and Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, during the Mass. Services during the daytime on Easter are shorter and well attended.

Sunrise services are common, but are distinctly Protestant. Sunrise services are gathered before dawn and reflect the arrival of the women at Jesus' tomb early in the morning. The services take place outdoors, often in church yards, cemeteries, or in parks, and are timed so the sun will rise during the course of worship.

Traditional family activities vary by region. In the United States, children often hunt for Easter eggs, which are often brightly-dyed hard boiled eggs, though they can be plastic eggs filled with candy or small denominations of money. Candy is a traditional gift for Easter as children often break their Lenten fasts with sweets. Adults tend to share bouquets of flowers, greeting cards, and may gather for a family meal. Such celebrations are often secularized and focused on children and family rather than the religious aspect of the holy day.

The Feast

Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast ( festum festorum ), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year. The order of Sundays from Septuagesima to the last Sunday after Pentecost, the feast of the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and all other movable feasts, from that of the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden (Tuesday after Septuagesima ) to the feast of the Sacred Heart (Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi ), depend upon the Easter date.

 

Commemorating the slaying of the true Lamb of God and the Resurrection of Christ, the corner-stone upon which faith is built, it is also the oldest feast of the Christian Church, as old as Christianity, the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments. That the Apostolic Fathers do not mention it and that we first hear of it principally through the controversy of the Quartodecimans are purely accidental. The connection between the Jewish Passover and the Christian feast of Easter is real and ideal. Real, since Christ died on the first Jewish Easter Day; ideal, like the relation between type and reality, because Christ's death and Resurrection had its figures and types in the Old Law, particularly in the paschal lamb, which was eaten towards evening of the 14th of Nisan.

In fact, the Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration; the liturgy ( Exsultet ) sings of the passing of Israel through the Red Sea, the paschal lamb, the column of fire, etc. Apart, however, from the Jewish feast, the Christians would have celebrated the anniversary of the death and the Resurrection of Christ. But for such a feast it was necessary to know the exact calendar date of Christ's death. To know this day was very simple for the Jews ; it was the day after the 14th of the first month, the 15th of Nisan of their calendar. But in other countries of the vast Roman Empire there were other systems of chronology.

The Romans from 45 B.C. had used the reformed Julian calendar; there were also the Egyptian and the Syro-Macedonian calendar. The foundation of the Jewish calendar was the lunar year of 354 days, whilst the other systems depended on the solar year. In consequence the first days of the Jewish months and years did not coincide with any fixed days of the Roman solar year. Every fourth year of the Jewish system had an intercalary month. Since this month was inserted, not according to some scientific method or some definite rule, but arbitrarily, by command of the Sanhedrin, a distant Jewish date can never with certainty be transposed into the corresponding Julian or Gregorian date (Ideler, Chronologie, I, 570 sq.). The connection between the Jewish and the Christian Pasch explains the movable character of this feast.

Easter has no fixed date, like Christmas, because the 15th of Nisan of the Semitic calendar was shifting from date to date on the Julian calendar. Since Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, had been slain on the very day when the Jews, in celebration of their Passover, immolated the figurative lamb, the Jewish Christians in the Orient followed the Jewish method, and commemorated the death of Christ on the 15th of Nisan and His Resurrection on the 17th of Nisan, no matter on what day of the week they fell. For this observance they claimed the authority of St. John and St. Philip.

In the rest of the empire another consideration predominated. Every Sunday of the year was a commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ , which had occurred on a Sunday. Because the Sunday after 14 Nisan was the historical day of the Resurrection, at Rome this Sunday became the Christian feast of Easter. Easter was celebrated in Rome and Alexandria on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, and the Roman Church claimed for this observance the authority of Sts. Peter and Paul. The spring equinox in Rome fell on 25 March; in Alexandria on 21 March. At Antioch Easter was kept on the Sunday after the Jewish Passover.

In Gaul a number of bishops, wishing to escape the difficulties of the paschal computation, seem to have assigned Easter to a fixed date of the Roman calendar, celebrating the death of Christ on 25 March, His Resurrection on 27 March (Marinus Dumiensis in P.L., LXXII, 47-51), since already in the third century 25 March was considered the day of the Crucifixion (Computus Pseudocyprianus, ed. Lersch, Chronologie, II, 61). This practice was of short duration. Many calendars in the Middle Ages contain these same dates (25 March, 27 March) for purely historical, not liturgical, reasons (Grotenfend, Zeitrechnung, II, 46, 60, 72, 106, 110, etc.). The Montanists in Asia Minor kept Easter on the Sunday after 6 April (Schmid, Osterfestberechnung in der abendlandischen Kirche).

The First Council of Nicaea (325) decreed that the Roman practice should be observed throughout the Church. But even at Rome the Easter term was changed repeatedly. Those who continued to keep Easter with the Jews were called Quartodecimans (14 Nisan) and were excluded from the Church. The computus paschalis , the method of determining the date of Easter and the dependent feasts, was of old considered so important that Durandus (Rit. div. off., 8, c.i.) declares a priest unworthy of the name who does not know the computus paschalis . The movable character of Easter (22 March to 25 April) gives rise to inconveniences, especially in modern times. For decades scientists and other people have worked in vain for a simplification of the computus, assigning Easter to the first Sunday in April or to the Sunday nearest the 7th of April. Some even wish to put every Sunday to a certain date of the month, e.g. beginning with New Year's always on a Sunday, etc. [See L. G?nther, "Zeitschrift Weltall" (1903); Sandhage and P. Dueren in "Pastor bonus" (Trier, 1906); C. Tondini, "L'Italia e la questione del Calendario" (Florence, 1905).]

FASTING AND ABSTINENCE

It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez. 18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man.

The Church for her part has specified certain forms of penance, both to ensure that the Catholic will do something, as required by divine law, while making it easy for Catholics to fulfill the obligation. Thus, the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics [Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches].

  1. Canon 1250: All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
  2. Canon 1251: Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Canon 1252: All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.
  4. Canon 1253: It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

The Church, therefore, has two forms of official penitential practices - three if the Eucharistic fast of one hour before Communion is included.

 

Abstinence

The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. They must do some penitential/charitable practice on these Fridays. For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere.

Fasting

The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem to be contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Aside from these minimum penitential requirements Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives). Some religious orders, as a penance, never eat meat. Similarly, one could multiply the number of days that one fasted. The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church's law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys - candy, soft drinks, smoking, that cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the individual.

One final consideration. Before all else we are obliged to perform the duties of our state in life. Any deprivation that would seriously hinder us in carrying out our work, as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.