Ash Wednesday, Lent and St. Valentine’s

February 14 is St. Valentine’s Day as well as a day for preparations for the Lunar New Year, but on this day we also begin the liturgical season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Lent has two major purposes: it calls us to a deeper appreciation of our baptism promises and it emphasizes a spirit of self-sacrifice and denial. What we normally call penance. Through forty days of closer attention to God’s Word and of more fervent prayer, we are drawn to be closer to the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord.

Even though St. Valentine’s falls on the same day, we as Catholics are called to observe Fasting and Abstinence {Note 1} on this day. This is probably bad news for some couples, but it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the fact that celebrating love should not be reduced to one day, and that sometimes love requires self-sacrifice and self denial.

Ash Wednesday and Lent is a time of self-sacrifice and self-denial. It give us a chance to think on our own sins, on how we have failed in our love for God and one another. We think of the social consequences of sin and renew our desire to turn from sin and to do the good which needs to be done. This is one of the reasons we need to work on self-denial and sacrifice.

It is because our sins that Lent is a time in which we turn to the Sacrament of Confession. To say to God ‘I am sorry for having offended you.’  We should all be sorry for our sins, we all commit sins, and we all need this sacrament. It is in this sacrament that we are assured that our sins have been forgiven. But even after they have been forgiven we need to do penance. Forgiveness of in confession remits our eternal debt (paid only in hell), but it doesn’t free us from making satisfaction in time for disturbing God’s order and hurting others. Satisfaction of this is made by offering something else to God in place of punishment:  prayer, alms-giving, self-mortification, or sacrifice. This is a second reason why we work on self-denial and sacrifice.

Ash Wednesday Practice
The reception of ashes on Ash Wednesday is traditional Catholic devotion. Even though Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation in Canada, many Catholics will go to Mass on Ash Wednesday in order to receive the ashes, which are smeared on the foreheads in the form of the Cross. As the priest distributes the ashes, he says, “Remember, man, that thou are dust and to dust thou you shall return.” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”

Both of these are a reminder of our sinfulness, and the fact that one day we will be called to account in our life. We need repent, go to confession and do penance before it is to late.

At the Cathedral during these days of Lent there will be extra devotions to help us increase in our love for Christ (Stations of the Cross after the 5:10 PM Mass on Wednesdays and Fridays) and as we approach Holy Week there will also be added times to go to Confession. Please avail yourself of these times to grow in closeness with our Blessed Lord.

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Note 1: Fasting and Abstinence: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
For members of the Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

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