The 3 Pillars of Lent
“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.” (Joel 2:12-18). The season of Lent begins each year on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time for us to change our lives and grow in holiness. Through the three pillars of Lent – fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, we endeavor to develop a closer relationship to God.
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity.” -St. Augustine
The practice of fasting is a form of penance that predates Christianity. In the Old Testament, fasting is associated with prayer. In the Book of Tobit, it states, “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness” (Tob 12:8). The Psalms say, “When I humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.” (Ps 69:10)
CCC 2043: The fourth precept, “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church,” ensures times of asceticism and penance which prepares us for the liturgical feasts and helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and cultivate a freedom of the heart.
Fasting is the restriction of consumption, deprivation of evil, and privation of good for the glory of God. During Lent, we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (1 regular meal and 2 small ones). On all other Fridays in Lent, the Church encourages Abstinence (no meat, only fish/shellfish).
If you would like a more detailed explanation of the fasting and abstinence rules, please read the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regulations on fasting.
“Be earnest in righteous works, by which sins may be purged. Frequently apply yourself to almsgiving, by which souls are freed from death.” -St. Cyprian
Almsgiving is the act of donating money or goods to the poor or performing other acts of charity. CCC 2462: The Catholic Church considers almsgiving “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God.”
However, when defining almsgiving, it helps to understand the meaning behind the word itself. The roots of the word “alms” can be found in ancient Latin and Greek words meaning mercy and pity. Similarly, the root of the word “charity” comes from the Latin “caritas,” meaning love.
While almsgiving is most closely associated with Lent, the practice of giving alms should be a year-round spiritual activity for all Catholics. Giving alms is essential to fostering a deep spiritual life because it allows us to step outside of ourselves and focus on the needs of others. To give alms is to unite ourselves to Christ in His poverty.
“Prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” -St. Therese of Lisieux
Prayer is our communication with God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a relationship of both listening and speaking. Ideally, our prayer life would be rooted in the Sacraments. Going to Confession and Mass to receive the Eucharist gives us the grace to grow closer to God and fall deeper in love with Him.
CCC 2558: With regard to prayer, the Catechism says, “This mystery [of faith], then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.“
We are not called to do only one, but all three pillars to prepare our hearts for Christ on Easter. Lent is the time in the liturgical calendar to remind the faithful of humility and sin. This is a special time to reflect on God’s grace and change ourselves to become as God calls us. Only through God’s grace and mercy will we make it to our ultimate goal of Heaven.
For more details on Lenten traditions and ways to prepare you and your family for this penitential season, please listen to this recent podcast from Mother Miriam Live and don’t forget to visit The Station of the Cross for more authentic Catholic media content.
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