Why we pray, fast and give alms during Lent
“Give alms … pray to your Father … fast, [but] do not look gloomy”
~ Matthew 6:2-16
Why Do We Pray?
As Catholics, we believe that personal prayer is not complete unless our prayers are joined with the community of faith who is the living Body of Christ. The Sunday liturgy is the greatest form of prayer because together we receive the gift of the Holy Eucharist — the very real presence of the Risen Christ. Attending weekly (or daily) Mass is an essential part of a healthy prayer life.
Throughout the season of Lent, we are called to deepen our prayer life. For some of us, this means beginning a habit of daily prayer, setting aside time each day to share our hopes, joys, fears and frustrations with God. Praying first thing in the morning, while the house is still quiet, or talking to God while on your commute to work are simple ways to integrate prayer into everyday life. Praying the Rosary, visiting the Blessed Sacrament or attending a daylong silent retreat may bring you to new places in your relationship with God.
Why Do We Fast?
Lent has traditionally been the season where we give something up, often sweets or a favorite food, in order to focus on the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. But fasting is much more than a means of developing self-control. Fasting is spiritual and physical purification; the pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God. Fasting and abstinence help us to participate more fully in the cross of Christ.
Fresh Ways to Fast
- In the Western world, fasting from food is a reminder of our abundance and a way to walk in solidarity with people around the world who struggle with daily hunger and starvation. Pause to remember families that face hunger as you fast.
- Limiting social-media exposure or fasting from the 24-hour news networks are ways to quiet our minds and open our hearts to transformation.
- We might also strive to fast from anger, road rage, workaholism, judgment or jealousy.
Lent is a time to fast from those things or habits that may have become a roadblock to our relationship with Christ.
Church Guidelines for Fasting and Abstinence
The law of abstinence obliges those 14 years of age and older not to eat meat on Fridays throughout the season of Lent as well as on Ash Wednesday. The law of fast obliges all those from ages 18 through 59 to refrain from eating between meals and to limit their eating to one full meal and two lighter meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Why Do We Give Alms?
Charitable giving is a very ancient practice; almsgiving was normative long before the time of Jesus. The Lenten call to almsgiving means making the needs of other people our own. One of the central lessons of the cross is compassion; the heavy burdens we carry help us to appreciate the suffering in others. Sharing our material goods is often just the beginning of real Christian giving. We are also called to share our time tending to people in need.
Outside-the-Box Ideas for Giving
- Volunteer at a neonatal center, giving premature babies a human touch
- Tutor a child or mentor a college graduate
- Increase your donation to your local parish
Lent is a time to prepare for Easter; it is a necessary prelude. The sacrificial practices of Lent prepare and purify us in body, mind and spirit for the passion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.