Do Customs Vary by States?
Q: My husband and I moved to
a new state before Lent last year. When I went to Mass on
Ash Wednesday, I received a pamphlet giving the following
"All the faithful are required to
do penance. Abstinence is to be observed every Friday of
Lent. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday
and on Good Friday. Those who have completed their 14th
year are bound to the law of abstinence. Those who have
completed their 18th year up to the beginning of their 60th
year are bound to the law of fast."
Nothing, however, was said about
"giving up something" for Lent, which was what I expected
because of my childhood Lenten experiences. Do different
parts of the country practice Lent differently?
A: Some Lenten practices are mandatory (the ones
mentioned in that pamphlet) and some are optional. "Giving
up something" is optional. So is "adding on" something,
such as reading from the Bible, using a book of daily devotions,
making a special effort to attend a weekday Mass, participating
in parish or diocesan Lenten programs or engaging in new
works of compassion.
Lent is about growing as disciples of Jesus. Every parish
is united in prayer with its catechumens and candidates
for full communion with the Catholic Church, preparing for
their Baptism or reception at the Easter Vigil.
It makes no sense for parishioners to pray that these people
will be generous followers of Jesus if current Catholics
feel that they have "arrived" and need no further growth
During Lent some Christians address their difficulty in
separating "wants" from "needs." "I can live without ...,"
people sometimes say. Lent puts that to the test. Maybe
they need to "give up" something at least temporarily. Other
Christians may need to address blind spots in how they follow
Jesus. Perhaps they need to "add on" something. On November
12, 2000, the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pastoral Practices
approved a document entitled "Penitential Practices for
Today's Catholics." You can access it at www.usccb.org/dpp/penitential.htm.
Lent is not a competition to see who can "give up" or "add
on" the most. It's a moment of honesty about the obstacles
we could be placing in our path to follow Jesus. Regardless
of where we live, Lent prepares us to be increasingly more
honest and generous followers of Jesus Christ.
Three Lenten Questions
Q: My sister, who is no longer
a practicing Catholic, asked me where Lent comes from and
whether it is biblical. Her Church emphasizes the biblical
basis of everything they do.
I've noticed that some parishes remove
the holy water from the fonts during Lent. Why?
One last question: On Fridays in Lent,
why can we eat fish but not other meats such as chicken,
steak, pork, etc.?
A: Lent is based on Christ's 40-day fast in the
desert, which recalls the 40 years that the Hebrew people
wandered between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised
Land. During Lent the Church prepares to welcome new members
through Baptism at the Easter Vigil. In Matthew 6:1-8, Jesus
assumes that his disciples will pray, fast and give alms;
he warns them not to "show off" in the process.
Many parishes take the holy water out of the fonts during
Lent. You might think of it as "fasting before the feast."
This custom helps some people better appreciate the symbolism
of baptismal water at the Easter Vigil. During the Easter
season, water is used during the sprinkling rite at the
beginning of many Masses.
Speaking of fish as "meat" may be stretching that term.
The Catholic Church's abstinence laws consider that meat
comes only from animals such as chickens, cattle or pigsall
of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Fish
are a different category of animal.
Are Catholics Facing Racism?
Q: I am a cradle Catholic,
born and raised in Nigeria. I have been very disappointed
by Catholic parishes in this country with regard to racial
issues. I am beginning to wonder if God-fearing Catholics
are the most racist people around.
I have experienced blatant racial
incidents in Catholic churches, including whites moving
two seats down from me in church. How do you suggest that
I deal with these issues? I am strongly considering leaving
the Catholic faith since I do not relish worshiping with
A: Yes, there is racism among Catholics because we
are human beings prone to sin (including racism). Is this
sin being acknowledged and dealt with? Yes.
If you go to our home
page and in the Search for Articles box type "Opening
the Doors," you will get a link to our February 2001 article
on black Catholics
in the United States. If you repeat the process and
type "Many Faces in
God's House," you will get a link to Our June 2000 Catholic
Update in preparation for a meeting to celebrate the
multiracial, multiethnic reality that is the Catholic Church.
"Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God's House" was the only
gathering promoted nationally by the U.S. bishops for the
During that Encuentro 2000 meeting in
Los Angeles, the sin of racism was named and condemned as
a violation of Catholicism's most basic belief: Jesus came
for the salvation of all people. We are all brothers and
sisters in the human family. As the song says, "In Christ
there is no east or west."
None of this will erase the racism you
have already experienced. But it suggests that those individuals
do not represent the entire Catholic Church in this country.
Sin is a sad reality in every human group,
including the Catholic Church with its divine origin and
vocation. We identify sin as sin and challenge it in light
of the Good News, which that same Church preaches to us.
Before you decide that the Catholic Church
in this country is irredeemably racist, please check the
Internet links that I listed above.
Last November the U.S. bishops elected
as president of their conference Bishop Wilton D. Gregory
of Belleville, Illinois. He is the first African-American
bishop to hold that position and is a convert to the Catholic
faith. May Christ, the light of the nations, help all Catholics
to avoid the sin of racism.
Can a Religious Person Be a Hypocrite?
Q: What is a religious hypocrite? I have always had a hard time understanding what a hypocrite is. Now some people are making it harder by adding the word "religious."
A: . A religious hypocrite is someone who creates
God in his or her imagenot the other way around as
God intended. A religious hypocrite manipulates religion
in order to look respectable or even heroic. This is the
basis for Jesus' story of the Pharisee and the tax collector
in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14).
A religious hypocrite likes worshiping a comfortable, nonthreatening
image of God rather than worshiping the totally honest and
loving God we meet in the Bible. A Christian racist is,
by definition, a hypocrite because he or she is trimming
the Good News to include some people and exclude others.
Jesus and biblical prophets like Amos, Micah, Isaiah and
Jeremiah gave very strong indictments of religious hypocrisy.
Are Sundays Part of Lent?
Q: Last year my Catholic co-workers and I disagreed over whether Sundays are considered part of Lent. Each year I give up sweets for Lent, but I have always understood that I could eat them on Sundays during Lent. Some of my co-workers disagree. With Lent starting soon, I would like to know who is right on this issue.
A: Technically, Sundays are not part of Lent. Although
we celebrate them liturgically as part of Lent, the Lord's
Day cannot be a day of fast and abstinence. Six weeks of
Monday through Saturday gives you 36 days. If you add to
them Ash Wednesday and the three days after it, you get
the 40 days of Lent.
Some people may find it easier to "give up" something for
the entire time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but you
are correct in saying that Sundays are not part of the 40
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