Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
With the beginning of the Holy Season of Lent, the Church proclaims anew Christ’s call to penance and conversion of life. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
The entire season of Lent, from Ash Wednesday, March 9th to Holy Thursday, April 21st is a penitential season, a time for self-denial, prayer and Christian charity. During this season, you are strongly encouraged to participate in Mass and receive Holy Communion daily, to receive the Sacrament of Penance, to attend Lenten devotions and the Stations of the Cross, to read the Scriptures prayerfully, and to perform acts of self-denial and works of mercy.
The specific discipline of the Church in the United States regarding penitential days is as follows: The days of fast and abstinence are ASH WEDNESDAY AND GOOD FRIDAY.
The other Fridays of Lent are DAYS OF ABSTINENCE.
The Fridays of the year, outside of Lent, are designated as DAYS OF PENANCE, but each individual may substitute for the traditional abstinence from meat some other practice of voluntary self-denial as penance.
This may be physical mortification or acts of religion, charity or Christian witness.
Those between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast. By this obligation, the individual is permitted only one full meal a day. At the age of 14, people are obliged to abstain. This obligation prohibits the eating of meat, but not eggs, milk products or condiments of any kind, even though made from animal fat.
The obligation to observe the laws of fast and abstinence “substantially” or as a whole is a serious obligation.
Failure to observe one penitential day in itself is not considered serious. It is the failure to observe any penitential days at all, or a substantial number of days, which must be considered serious.
The obligation of receiving the Eucharist at least once a year should still be fulfilled during the period from the First Sunday of Lent, March 13th to Trinity Sunday, June 19th. However, the Code of Canon Law does permit this precept to be fulfilled at another time during the year when there is a just cause.
“Have mercy, Lord, we have sinned,” the Church prays on Ash Wednesday. May the awareness of our sinfulness urge us to respond to Christ’s teaching of our need to do penance.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton