GUIDE TO KEEPING A HOLY LENT
To view as a printable PDF file, click here.
† Easter, the Day of the Resurrection, has always been the most important celebration of Christ’s Church. From the beginning, the Church observed a period of fasting and preparation before the great feast in order to grow in love of God and neighbor and to acquire a clearer, more joyous vision of the Risen Christ come Easter Day. This season of fasting was eventually lengthened to forty days to correspond to the forty day fasts in the Bible:
1) the fast of Jesus in the wilderness before he was tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1),
2) the fast of Moses on Mt. Sinai while he was receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28),
3) the fast of Elijah when he fled from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:8).
Guidelines for Lenten Fasting
The Holy Tradition of the Western Church provides us with some general rules for fasting and abstinence: fasting involves lowering the quantity of food, which usually means no more than a light breakfast, one full meal, and another light meal each day. Abstinence deals with lowering the quality of food, which typically means not eating flesh meat. Wednesdays (the day our Lord was condemned to death) and Fridays (the day our Lord died on the Cross) in Lent are especially days of abstinence. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of complete fasting; no food is eaten at least until sundown.
Desserts and rich foods ought to be reduced, and consumption of alcohol should be eliminated over the course of the several weeks to come.
Many of our brethren in the church jurisdictions of Eastern Orthodoxy are more austere during the season and take on fasting whilst abstaining from all animal food products (including dairy) in the interest of squelching animal passions and desires.
Though a bit more moderation than usual may well be appropriate during the season, the Sundays of Lent are not counted as days of fasting since Sundays are always observed as celebrations of the Resurrection.
Prayerfully consider what is both safe and profitable, and which approach will set you on a path that sees your awareness, focus, and dependence on God increase (along with a recovery of self-control) by decreasing the unhelpful habits, indulgences, and idolatrous distractions that will keep you from turning away from yourself and more fully toward God (John 3:30). This is supposed to involve not just food and drinks but indeed all that ought not be in us in order to make room for that which should. Put aside anger, idle talk, gossip, slander, and vulgar language. Can you give up Facebook and other social media, pop music, video games, and at least significantly reduce time spent on your phone, streamed entertainment devices, and television for a while? Of course you can!
As the saying goes, fasting and abstinence without prayer is little more than “dieting with the devil.” During the forty days of Lent, strive to begin and end each day with prayer. Recite Morning Prayer &/ or Evening Prayer or at least the Shorter Form from the Family Prayer section toward the back of the Book of Common Prayer with readings from Holy Scripture. Take more time for silence, meditation, and “conversational” prayer, remembering that listening is so often an overlooked component of prayer. Pray unceasingly, making sure to touch upon each and all of the facets of Christian prayer: adoration, confession, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. Pray the Jesus Prayer often. Do these things in order to become more at one with the mind and will of God and to experience His power and presence in your life.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Therefore, as all Holy Scriptures have been written for our learning, may our Blessed Lord “grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life… given us in our Savior Jesus Christ” (Collect for Advent II). Too often, our thoughts, attitudes, and opinions are formed by the aforementioned things of this world that we ought to be giving up for Lent. To set things aright, read your Bible, looking especially to the daily lectionary near the beginning of the BCP for Psalms, Old and New Testament readings for each day of the year at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. If you want to start with the lessons for Ash Wednesday, for instance, go to pages xvi and xvii. These lessons focus on the themes of the liturgical seasons in which they are placed for reading and will pretty much take you through the whole of the Bible over the course of the year.
Lent is a good time for self-assessment, to consider what is hindering you from a closer walk with Christ, and to make way for requisite changes that need to be made. Then, as St. John writes, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Begin by asking God to reveal just how you have sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23) before spending some time with the Ten Commandments and perhaps considering the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Sloth and Gluttony). Then confess your sins with an humble and contrite heart. Our Lord Himself gave His Church the power and authority to absolve us of our sins and pronounce the assurance that we are forgiven (John 20:23; Matt 16:19 & 18:18) so that we are free to go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Though we are near the end of the list of Lenten disciplines, corporate worship could well have taken its place at the head. There is simply nothing more important that we do over the course of the week than our solemn obligation “to worship God every Sunday in his Church” (BCP). Such has always been a basic duty (Heb 10:25; John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) and should be an absolute joy for those who have received such an inestimable gift of being accounted as righteous unto eternal life by being fed with the grace-filled Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, which is necessary to our salvation (John 6:54; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 1 John 5:11). Offering ourselves in worship quickens our understanding, strengthens our faith, gives us hope, fills us with encouragement, and gives us the first-hand experience of being loved by God.
Make a commitment to not miss a single Sunday in the God’s House this Lenten season; Jesus told us to this do (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:34-25). And if you’re habitually late, get here on time. Or better yet, be present before the Holy Sacrifice begins in order to properly engage in what you are supposed to be doing. Each and every discipline listed above and below emanates from this one and serves as both the source and culmination of lives that belong to God in Christ and through the Holy Ghost.
Works of Mercy
Finally, the result of the renewal of our life in Christ through Lenten disciplines—which could become year round Christian disciplines—is new behavior, exhibited by “let(ting) your light so shine before all that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16) with “fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8) and “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Motivated by our faith, hope, and charity, we are then enabled to reconcile with those with whom we may have conflicts and minister to others as follows:
Spiritual Works of Mercy: 1) converting the sinner, 2) instructing the ignorant, 3) counseling the doubtful, 4) comforting the sorrowful, 5) bearing wrongs patiently, 6) forgiving injuries, and 7) praying for the living and the dead.
Corporal Works of Mercy: 1) feeding the hungry, 2) giving drink to the thirsty, 3) clothing the naked, 4) harboring the stranger, 5) visiting the sick, 6) ministering to prisoners, and 7) burying the dead.
Lent is a time for renewed response to the spiritual and temporal needs we see around us and to consider how God is calling us to use our gifts in ministry. Responding accordingly is the evidence that God is working in and through us.
Great Lent is an opportunity given to us by the Church to turn again to our Lord and so much more fully experience the joy of Easter. As the hunger created by fasting is directed towards God in Worship, Prayer, Confession, Bible reading, and Acts of Charity, we learn the spiritual truth of John 6:35: “He who comes to me shall never hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” †