Lent: A Season to Care for God's Creation
We begin the specially grace-filled season of Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 26, 2020, during which we are invited to contemplate on the life-giving Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord.
Pope Francis in his Lenten message for 2020, quotes his own Christus Vivit "Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn anew" (No. 123). Jesus' Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer."
Canon Law authorises Episcopal Conferences to determine, in place of abstinence, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety. The CCBI has discussed this in depth, and I am giving below several alternatives suggested. However, I encourage you to go back to our ancient practice of abstinence from all meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays of Lent, besides also following one or more of the options given. We need to be generous with the Lord. In memory of our Lord's Passion on Good Friday, and so that the fruits of Lent continue throughout the year, I strongly recommend that in our homes and institutions, we abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. This is also a time for sacramental Confession. Please do not wait for Holy Week, but already now, benefit from the graces offered by the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Canon 1249 states: "All Christ's faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days, the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully, and specially by observing fast and abstinence."
The days for the common practice of penance are Ash Wednesday and every Friday of the year.
Alternative forms of penance suggested in the Archdiocese of Bombay are:
A. Forms of Prayer:
a. Attending Mass.
b. Making the Way of the Cross.
c. A visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
d. Reading the Scriptures.
e. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
f. For the homebound: Meditating on the Lord's Passion.
g. Family Prayer together (the Rosary, or Scripture Reading and Reflection, or some other prayer).
B. Acts of Penance:
a. Missing a meal: breakfast, lunch or supper.
b. Taking strictly vegetarian meals, avoiding even fi sh and eggs.
c. Abstaining from alcohol and/or smoking, for those accustomed to these.
d. Avoiding films/television and other forms of recreation.
C. Works of Charity:
a. Giving 10% of one's daily earnings in charity.
b. Offering a meal to a poor family.
c. Offering voluntary service for some social/charitable work.
d. Visiting the sick/aged/lonely.
e. Donating blood.
D. I urge that in Lent we take special care of the environment by carbon fasting or in some other way.
a) The days prescribed for obligatory fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Some may feel inspired to fast every Friday in Lent, and this is a beneficial spiritual exercise.
b) The law of fasting binds those who have completed their 18th year till the beginning of the 60th year.
c) Those who are fasting are to take only one full meal per day. A light breakfast may be taken in the morning and a light supper in the evening. But one can always reverse the order of the meals e.g. take the full meal in the evening, instead of the afternoon.
d) Those who cannot keep the law of fasting without considerable difficulty because of health, work etc. are excused from the observance of the law. Our faithful are however urged not to excuse themselves too easily from this obligation, as it is but fitting that on the two prescribed days of fasting, we unite ourselves in a special manner with the Passion and Death of Our Saviour by a more intense form of penance.
In case of difficulty regarding the fulfilment of the obligation of common penance and fasting, or a doubt regarding the existence of factors excusing from these obligations, a dispensation may be obtained from the Parish Priest or Confessor.
A dispensation from the law of common penance and fasting is hereby granted to members of the Armed Forces and Security Personnel in the Archdiocese and to travellers by land, sea or air.
The Lenten Alms collected this year have been earmarked for St Pius X College, Goregaon – the Diocesan Seminary of Bombay.
Easter Duties would require that the faithful who have made their First Communion, should receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Paschal Time, unless for a good reason, the precept is fulfilled at another time during the year (Can. 920). Besides, the faithful are reminded that those who have reached the age of discretion are bound to confess their grave sins at least once a year (Can. 989).
In the Archdiocese of Bombay, the Easter Duties can be fulfilled this year between Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020, and Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.
Our prayer, penance and fasting during the season of Lent should help us to turn to Jesus. It should enable us to leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and impel us to stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, we will radiate the transforming power of Christ's victory over sin and death to all of Creation.
I wish each one of you a grace-filled season of Lent.
February 17, 2020
Oswald Cardinal Gracias
Archbishop of Bombay