Lent focuses on two aspects of Christian life. First, we remember our Baptism and assist those preparing to be baptized by our prayers and example. Second, we consider how we have lived out our baptismal promises and we observe more intensely Christian penitential disciplines in order to live more faithfully the vows we made, or will make, at Baptism. By emphasizing these two points, the Church prepares for Easter, the highpoint of the entire liturgical year when we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection.
Because we often fail to live out our baptismal call, we sin in ways that affect our relationship with God, each other, and the world. Therefore, our Lenten penance strives not only for inward conversion, but also for outward reconciliation with God and the Church, those around us, and creation. Thus, the Church encourages us to follow more intensely three penitential disciplines: prayer, fasting, and works of charity and love.
During Lent, we are encouraged to participate more often in the Eucharist and in other forms of communal and private prayer. This is an especially beneficial time to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance as well as the other liturgies of the Church, such as the Liturgy of the Hours and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Other devotions, such as Stations of the Cross, are encouraged as well as daily prayer, Scripture reading, spiritual reading, alms-giving, self-denial, and increased care for the sick and poor.
Denying or limiting oneself of food reminds us of our dependence on God and God’s infinite care for us. Thus it also compels us to remember and to help those who fast not by choice or religious obligation but by lack of food and resources. During Lent, those of age 18 until the beginning of their 60th year are obligated to observe a day of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Fasting means eating only one full meatless meal per day. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken, but together they should not equal a full meal. Liquids, including milk and fruit juice, may be taken between meals. If health or ability to work is affected, one is not obligated to fast. On other weekdays of Lent, eating more modest meals is also strongly recommended.
Abstinence from meat is observed on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. All the faithful are bound by Church law to abstain from meat on these days from the day after their 14th birthday. Pastors and parents should ensure that children who are not bound by the laws of fast and abstinence are catechized in an authentic sense of penance, conversion, and reconciliation.
All the faithful, after they have participated in First Communion, are obligated to share in Communion at least once a year. This law must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at some other time during the year. In the United States, with regard to this law, the Easter season is the period from the First Sunday of Lent until Most Holy Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost).
After Baptism and a diligent examination of conscience, members of the Catholic Church are obligated to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance if one consciously commits a serious sin which has not yet been confessed or acknowledged in individual confession. It is recommended that venial sins are also confessed. The faithful who are old enough to understand that they have sinned are obligated to confess serious sins at least once a year.