“Preparing for Lent? What do you mean preparing for Lent? I thought Lent was about preparing for Easter?” Lent is indeed about preparing to receive the Lord at Easter, but Catholics traditionally also prepare themselves to have a holy Lent, so that they can be well prepared for Easter. Quinquagesima, meaning “fiftieth,” refers to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, sexagesimal, “sixtieth,” refers to the Sunday before that, and septuagesima, “seventieth,” refers to the week before that, which is nine weeks before Easter. They would begin to pray and even to fast, the prayers and readings at Mass would take on a penitential character, and they would stop singing the Gloria and saying “alleluia,” but they would also celebrate with parades and feasts, as we do at Mardi Gras.
We no longer celebrate these days in the liturgical calendar, but we can learn from the wisdom of our ancestors that we need to prepare for the Lenten fast. First, you can examine your conscience and go to confession before Lent starts, so that you start with a clean slate, and then go to confession again as we get closer to Easter. This way, the Lenten fast will show you what sins you are most struggling with and encourage you to seek God’s help, in the sacrament, to overcome them.
Second, start to plan out your Lent. Decide what special penance you want to do for Lent. Do you want to give something up or add something or a little of both? One of the best ways that we can prepare for Holy Week is by meditating on the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus by making the Way of the Cross, praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, praying the Magnificent Prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden, and reading the Passion Narratives in the Gospels (Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 12-19). Even if you can’t make it to the Way of the Cross at Church, on Friday morning at 8:30 and Friday evening at 6:00, you can still do any of these prayers by yourself.
Let’s commit ourselves to having a good Lent this year, to praying with all of our mind and heart, to fasting in such a way that we increase our hunger for God, and to conforming ourselves more and more to the Cross every day. As St. Paul wrote, “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Rm 6:5-6).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.