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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why do Catholics do that?

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The other day in response to my "Givin' it up" entry, Momza asked me to explain the whole concept of Lent to her sweet little Mormon self. And thanks to the great homily by Fr. Paul on Ash Wednesday I can do just that!

Lent is the period of preparation before Easter. As Catholics, we're called to do 3 things during Lent:
  1. Pray
  2. Fast
  3. Give alms
Each one of these gives us the opportunity to work on our relationships -- with God, with ourselves and with others.

Pray: We're called to do something new or extra in our prayer life to strengthen our relationship with God. For some people that might be getting up 10 minutes earlier to read the Bible. Some may choose to pray the rosary daily. For me, I'm going to bed earlier and using the time to read/reflect using the book Reliving the Passion (written by Mike's Godfather, Walt Wangerin). Praying for a parking spot up close the entrance of the grocery store does not count.

Fast: This is where the giving up comes in. Each person chooses for him/herself what to give up for Lent, although universally Catholics do not eat meat (beef, chicken, pork, veal) on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays during Lent. When I was a kid, we always gave up candy which made an Easter basket full of jelly beans, marshmallow Peeps and Reese's peanut butter eggs extra special.

There are two ideas behind fasting. One is self-discipline. The other is rooting out things in our character that aren't good -- something that hopefully continues after Easter. So giving up pop is self-discipline; giving up cussing is about rooting out a yucky part of my character.

A third idea is just a myth, though it seems pretty plausible based on my experience. That is that we give up things during Lent so that our mothers can lay the guilt on us when we cave and sneak a tiny bite of brownie even though we've given up chocolate.

Give alms: This is about relating with others. Doing acts of charity -- donating money, working at soup kitchen, volunteering at a nursing home -- helps keep "do unto others" fresh in our minds. This is the one piece of Lent that I'm struggling with. Not that I don't want to do it, but I don't know what to do and where to schedule it in. I'd like to find a service activity that our whole family can participate in, so I'm still looking.

Lent is over on Easter Sunday. If you count the days, there are actually 46 days in the season, not 40. Which is where the confusion over Sundays comes in. Liturgically, Sundays are a day of celebration, so many people consider them "Little Easters" and allow themselves whatever they have otherwise given up. Other people stay true to their Lenten promises daily until Easter. This is a point of controversy in my house. As is why you can eat eggs on Friday, but not chicken.

There is no punishment for breaking your Lenten promise. It's between you and God -- and your children if they hear you accidentally say "$hit I forgot to thaw the meat for dinner!" and they know you gave up cussing for Lent.

And that, Momza, in a nutshell is Lent. Thanks for asking!

6 comments:

lighthousegal said...

During Mass last night we sang a lot of songs that we used to sing at St. M's. I miss that church and the people! Trying to get settled in a new place is hard!

Joanie said...

Oh you said it so much better than I did!

Mel said...

Wow! Thanks for explaining. I grew up only occasionally going to church (not Catholic) so sometimes I feel pretty uneducated about things like Lent.

Hmmm...giving up candy till Easter...sounds like a fantastic idea!

varangianguard said...

Here's a resource that might help in your search for a family project (short or long term).

Help Indy Site

Momza said...

::::APPLAUSE!!!::: Well done! I've always wondered what it all meant and why...so now I know!

It realy is a good motivation to start better habits. Thanks for taking the time to explain it so very well to this Mormon Momza!

Angie Seaman said...

Thanks for this girl. My Dad is Catholic but I've never known that there was more to lint than the fasting part. Good to know. I'm going to go quiz him now on all this. HA! Hey...didn't you say you were in the BG area before. Is that you or am I thinking of someone else in the blog world? If so, my Dad lives over that way. You guys might go to the same church for all I know. They used to go to Holy Name. They recently switched though and now go to St. Rock. Just an FYI for ya. Hee hee! :) Hugs, Angie