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With Ash Wednesday on February 14, 2018, we begin the specially grace-filled season of Lent, during which we are invited to meditate on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord.

In his message for Lent 2018, Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus warned against a situation in which the community of disciples might find itself: false prophets leading people astray, and love that is the core of the Gospel growing cold in the hearts of many. The sentiments of compassion and mercy, the fruit of love, should never grow cold. The season of Lent, specially through frequent attendance at Mass and feeding on the Word of God and the Eucharist, should become a time of spiritual renewal. More prayer, acts of penance and works of charity is what the Church recommends during Lent.

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 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 fish 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. f. Special care of the environment: carbon fasting or some other way.

Fasting: 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.

Dispensation: 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.

Lenten Alms: The Lenten Alms collected this year have been earmarked for St Pius X College, Goregaon – the Diocesan Seminary of Bombay.

Easter Duties: 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 14, 2018, and Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.

Our penance during the season of Lent should transform our hearts, enabling us to experience God's love, to become merciful in turn, so that in an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church's tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.

In Jesus crucified, God shows His desire to draw near sinners, however far they may have strayed from Him.

I wish each one of you a grace-filled season of Lent.

Oswald Cardinal Gracias Archbishop of Bombay



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