I. Day of Public Catholicism: this Wednesday, March 1 is Ash Wednesday, a day when Catholics crowd churches everywhere to celebrate Mass and have ashes smeared upon their foreheads, symbolizing their desire for ongoing spiritual conversion. “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” May this not be an empty symbol, but one that challenges us to spiritual growth. Our Ash Wednesday Masses at St. Stephen Cathedral will be at 7:00am, 12:00 noon, and 6:00pm.
II. Day of Strict Fast and Abstinence: to fast is to do without food. Its purpose is to experience the effects of not eating. It also serves as a penance or a sacrifice–for the purpose of strengthening us. When we don’t eat even for a while, we get hungry. When we get hungry we have a heightened sense of awareness. When we eat too much, we have a sluggish feeling; when we fast, we have a feeling of alertness. Fasting is a wonderful exercise whenever we want to sincerely ask for an important grace from God. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we are asked to FAST––-what one eats that day equals no more than one full meal, with no food in between meals.
To ABSTAIN is to not eat meat. Its purpose is to be an act of PENANCE, an act of SACRIFICE, that helps us grow in freedom to make much bigger sacrifices. Catholics are asked to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and during the Fridays of Lent. For many people today, not eating meat is not a sacrifice; therefore, you are asked to do an additional penance in the spirit of what this discipline is about.
Whether it is fasting, abstaining, or other acts of penance, the desire is to use these means or disciplines to assist us in growing closer to the our Lord and prepare ourselves “to celebrate the Paschal mystery with minds and hearts renewed” (First Preface of Lent).
III. Stations of the Cross: having evolved over time, tradition holds that our Mother Mary visited daily the scenes of her Son’s passion. After Constantine legalized Christianity in the year 312, this pathway leading to Jesus’ crucifixion was marked with important “stations”. Saint Jerome (342-420), living in Bethlehem during the latter part of his life, attested to the crowds of pilgrims from various countries who visited these holy places and followed the “way of the cross”.
Since Lent is a penitential season of preparation for Easter, this devotion of Stations of the Cross, which follows the path of Christ from Pontius Pilate’s praetorium to Christ’s tomb, has become a meaningful devotion in parishes. In the 16th century, this pathway was officially entitled “Via Dolorosa” (the sorrowful way) or simply, the Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross.
During the Lenten season, St. Stephen Cathedral will offer Stations of the Cross every Wednesday after the noon Mass, and every Friday at 6:00pm. Of course, this devotion can be prayed, reflected upon, privately anytime.