Liturgy Spots: Ash Wednesday & Lent - 31st January 2016

In response to requests, my “Liturgy Lines” columns for the next few months will consist of two or three shorter items that can be used as bulletin inserts. Parishes may reproduce “Liturgy Lines” columns for private use, provided the copyright line (© Liturgy Brisbane) is retained.
One challenge in doing this is timing. Those who read “Liturgy Lines” in the Catholic Leader before Mass or in the week following prefer the content to be current. People wanting to reproduce it in bulletins, handouts, etc need to have access to the material somewhat earlier. In an effort to suit both groups, items relating to particular days or seasons will appear a week in advance.

Ash Wednesday

Wednesday 10th February is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. It is designated by the Church as days of fast and abstinence, as is Good Friday.

In current Catholic practice, fasting means having only one full meal a day. Smaller quantities of food may be eaten at two other meals but no food should be consumed at any other time during the day. The law of fasting applies to people from 18 to 59 years old.

Abstinence is the practice of abstaining from the use of certain kinds of food. Everyone aged 14 years and older is bound by the law of abstinence from meat.

The practice of fasting and abstinence aims at leading us to interior conversion by making us more disciplined and more charitable.  We fast in order to share our time and our treasure with an attitude of love towards God and others. In addition, the practice helps us imitate the example of Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the desert.

The ashes that are marked on our foreheads on the first day of Lent are a symbol of humility, purification and sorrow and remind us of the need to repent our failings. But we remember also that we are Easter people – that good can come out of evil, that death gives way to new life and that there is hope in the midst of despair.


The name ‘Lent’ comes from an old English word meaning ‘to lengthen’. It was used to describe the 6-week period leading to Easter because in the northern hemisphere it coincided with the time when the short winter days were gradually growing longer.

Lent began as a brief period of preparation for those adults who were to be baptised at Easter. Eventually the rest of the Community showed their solidarity with the catechumens by also observing an intense period of prayer and fasting before Easter.

When adult baptism became the exception rather than the norm, Lent changed from focusing on preparation for baptism or renewing one’s baptismal promises to being an intensely penitential period.

The second Vatican Council restored the balance by describing Lent as being marked by two themes, the baptismal and penitential.

For those who will be baptised at Easter, Lent is a period of intense preparation called the “Period of Purification and Enlightenment”. Together with those who are preparing for Christian initiation at Easter, we all look to a deeper conversion of heart during the weeks of Lent.

The Gospel readings for the six Sundays of Lent always follow the same pattern: The temptations in the desert; The Transfiguration; The woman at the well; The man born blind; The raising of Lazarus; The Passion.


Elizabeth Harrington