A Lenten Primer

What is Lent?

Lent is the penitential season preceding Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 2 this year.

What is Penance?

A penance is a pious act that helps you to repent (turn away) from sin and draw closer to God. We do penance to reorient our lives toward what is holy. The forms of penance traditionally practiced during Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.


Prayer should be part of the daily routine of any Christian throughout the year. During Lent, we should try to incorporate additional prayers and devotions into our normal routine. Reflect on your current prayer life and consider what you may add to it during this season. Some ideas might be attending an additional Mass during the week, spending more time in Eucharistic Adoration, praying a daily rosary or chaplet of Divine Mercy, spending time reading the scripture each day, or dedicating time to silent meditation in the chapel or in your room. Whatever you decide to do, be specific and make a plan about how you will incorporate it into your schedule.


Fasting is the ascetical practice of abstaining from food for a certain period. The mandatory days of fasting (for Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59) are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Church recommends a voluntary fast on all weekdays during Lent. The law of fasting limits food consumption to one meal per day. Additional food may be taken if necessary without breaking the fast, as long as it does not equal a second meal. (Those with health concerns are not bound to fast).

In addition to fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics over the age of 14 are obliged to abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent (fish is OK, as are broths and sauces made from meat stock).

It is common to practice other forms of voluntary self-denial during Lent as a means of mortifying the senses and building spiritual discipline. Ideas might include giving up alcohol, coffee or desserts, or abstaining from some other forms of food; giving up or limiting media consumption or video games; taking cold showers or sleeping without a pillow.


Almsgiving literally means giving money for the poor, but we can think of it more broadly as charitable works. What are some additional ways you can show your love of neighbor during Lent? You might choose to spend time volunteering at a local soup kitchen or pregnancy care center. You can donate money or canned goods to a local food pantry, give to the homeless man on the street corner, buy diapers for the new mom, prepare a meal for the family grieving the loss of a loved one, or any other kind act. Think of people in your life who could use a helping hand.

Repent & Believe in the Gospel

It is common also to make a special effort of going to Confession during Lent. Catholics are obliged to confess their sins to a priest at least once per year (the saints all recommend doing it more often). Lent is an especially important time to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation, especially if you haven’t done so in a while.

The point of participating in the above penitential acts is not for the sake of the acts themselves, but as a means of turning our hearts away from sin and selfishness and to open them up to a greater love of God and love of neighbor. This means performing our Lenten penances with intentionality and a spirit of joy.

May God bless you doing this Lenten season and may your Lenten observances help you to experience the love of God more richly in your life.