Liturgical Year
Part 3 Easter

Chapter y31 Lent

Preliminary Questions

Works by Thomas Richstatter Regarding Lent

General Bibliography 

Internet Sites

Church Documents

Ten Finger History Lent




Symbols of Lent

Johnson Chapter 5

Spirituality of the Season

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

"Asceticism is not merely about giving things up; it is as much about achieving more life--another kind of life." Chittister, The Liturgical Year, p 104.

When you close your eyes and say "Lent" what is the first thing that comes to mind?

How has your observance of Lent changed during the last five years? Why?

What is your favorite liturgical season, Advent or Lent?  What is the high point of the liturgical year in your experience, Christmas or Easter?  What is your experience of Lent? Do you give up things for Lent?  What are your favorite Lenten devotional prayers?

I am always quietly amused on Ash Wednesday when Jesus tells us in the gospel that when we are fasting we should wash our face and not let anyone know that we are fasting. Then on this first day of our fast for lent we come forward and have our faces smeared with dirt so everyone will see that we are fasting. It is a fun church.

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Works by Thomas Richstatter Regarding Lent

26. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. Praying Your Way Through Lent. Four, thirty minute audio cassettes. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1986.

31. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. "Baptismal Homilies for the Sundays of Lent: Cycle A and the RCIA," Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1988.

38. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. "Lent: A 40-Day Retreat: Rediscovering Your Baptismal Call," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, February 1990. CU 0290

45. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. "Our Holiest Week: A Practical Guide for the Holy Week Liturgies," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, April, 1992. C0492. 

[May 28, 1993, Catholic Press Association award for general-interest newsletter, Best Article, second place to Catholic Update, April 1992, "Our Holiest Week."

July 1, 1993, Cincinnati Editors Association Publication Contest, writing, feature, or newsletter. First place for Our Holiest Week: Practical Guide for the Holy Week Liturgy.]

46. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Getting the Most out of Holy Week," St. Anthony Messenger, 99:11 (April, 1992) pp 28-33.

57. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Baptism, the Gift of Lent" St. Anthony Messenger, 102:10 (March, 1995) p 57.

59. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Triduum: How Much Love," St. Anthony Messenger, 102:11 (April, 1995) p 56.

85. Richstatter, Thomas, O.F.M. "Lent: Opening the Gifts of the Holy Spirit," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, February 1998, C0298.

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Internet Sites

An explanation of the liturgical calendar can be found at

  American Catholic - Lent Feature

Click the above icon for Lent resources.


The www offers many resources for lent, e.g.

The Vatican offers a Lent  page.

The University of Dayton always has a good page for Lent.

U of D also offers Links for Lent

Creighton University offers a page for Lent.


Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History, Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. Trans. Matthew J. O'Connell. 1979. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1981, p 91-115.

Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy. Lectionary for Mass. Numbers 7, 8 and 13, pp 10-13.

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 107-110. GENERAL PRINCIPLES

CSL 107 - Seasons restored to their original purpose.

CSL 108 - Seasons over saints.

CSL 109 - Baptismal character of lent.

CSL 110 - Sin is social; penance is social and ecclesial.

CSL 110 - Paschal Fast: Friday through to the vigil.

Calendar, Discursive: pp 65-67. Dispositive #27-31.

Congregation for Divine Worship. Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts, January 16, 1988, Vatican City. ICEL translation, Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1988.  ISBN 1-55586-219-5. $1.95.

Code of Canon Law. Book IV, Part III, Title II: Sacred Times (cc 1244-1253). CLSA Commentary, pp 853-855.

Gabe Huck, The Three Days (Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum). Revise Edition. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1992.

Gabe Huck and Mary Ann Simcoe (editors), A Triduum Sourcebook. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1983.

Huels, John. The Pastoral Companion. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1986.

Lectionary, #97-98.

Martimort, A.G, ed. Liturgy and Time. Vol. 4 of The Church at Prayer. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Prayer, 1986, pp 66-75.

Mitchell, Nathan, OSB. Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1982.

Nocent, Adrian, OSB. The Liturgical Year. Trans. Matthew J. O'Connell. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1977. Vol. II "Lent and Holy Week," pp 3-17, 32-56.

Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars, Numbers 27-31, p 17. Also, pp 65-67 of "Commentary on the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar."

Paul VI. Poenitemini. Apostolic Letter of February 17, 1966. Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, See: DOL, #

Stevenson, Kenneth W. Worship: Wonderful and Sacred Mystery. "Origins and Development of Ash Wednesday." Washington, DC: The Paulist Press, 1992. pp. 159-187


Paul Turner,  Glory in the Cross: Holy Week in the Third Edition of The Roman Missal

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Ten Finger History

Apostolic [0-399] -- Christ's death and resurrection = central symbol. Each Sunday (Lord's Day) = celebration of Paschal Victory = The original feast day. 2c Easter as a special Sunday. 3c E = 50 days. The 3 day fast: Friday to Easter Communion. (Triduum = Fri Sat Sun). Baptism begins to be reserved for Vigil.

Patristic [400-799] -- Jerusalem drama of Holy Week. end 4c 40 day fast before Easter. Triduum becomes THURSDAY, Friday, Sunday. Reconciliation of penitents on Holy Thursday. early 6c Catechumenate disappears. Thursday Last Supper to Rome. Ash Wednesday added (=40).

Early Medieval [800-1199] -- Irish Penitential books. Palm Sunday procession. end of 11c. Ashes given to all. Formulas for Mass on M, Tu, Thu, & Sat of Lent. (Wed & Fri = word and fast)

Medieval [1200-1299] -- Lent shifts from Baptism to Penance. Water to Blood. Eucharist reserved after Mass on Holy Thursday.

Late Medieval [1300-1499] -- Complexity of year. Liturgy lost to Faithful; preserve of monks.

Reformation [1500-1699] -- Restoration of preaching (catechesis) without a lectionary (no lectionary, no year). [Choose text based on pastoral need (sermon determines text)].

After Trent [1700-1899] -- Celebration of saints obscures meaning of Sunday (Sunday office longer) and seasons. Saints during Lent. Low Point:  Votive Masses on any day of the year!

Before Vat II [1900-1959] -- 1903 Pius X. Tra le sollecitudine. Odo Casel. Mysteriengegenwart. Anamnesis. Dom Gueranger. Lambert Beauduin. 1926 Orate Fratres (now "Worship"), Virgil Michel.

Vatican II [1960-1999] -- a) Calendar intelligible to whole Church. b) Restore Sunday. c) Christ over saints. d) Seasons to original purpose. e) Saints: truth in advertising. f) Subsidiarity.

Tomorrow [2000-2099] -- Common lectionary. Liturgical year influences devotional piety. RCIA implemented throughout USA.  

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When you close your eyes and say "Lent" what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Jesus' Baptism is the pattern of our own.  Jesus 1) went down into the water and 2) and heard the voice (You are Loved) and 3) came up changed -- and 4) something is left behind.  The point of our Lenten Penance is to to create a space where the voice of God can be heard -- We are LOVED.  It is the realization of this love and empowers change, repentance.  "There is no power in the law" (St. Paul).  "Love people, and see how they begin to change" (Bonheoffer).

Note that the "dying" we experience in Baptism is real dying.  During Lent, something must die just as when we go into the pool at Baptism something must die (i.e. something must be left behind).   But the point is not the death but the new life.  Our focus is on what is born!   

How does our understanding of Lenten penance relate to Baptism?  How does our understanding of suffering relate to Baptism?  

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What is Fasting?  It differs from dieting.  Think of that bloated wonderful feeling after Thanksgiving Dinner when you don't want to do anything (especially not think) but set and watch TV.  Fasting is the opposite of that.  Leads to "clear head."  Fasting is not so much dieting as heightened awareness.  

Fasting and Pain  Do you have a vocabulary for discussing the positive aspects of pain and suffering?  The communal aspects of pain?   (The Eastern mentality seems to do better in this area than Western consumer societies.)   Goldberger distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate pain.

Baptism   How does our understanding of suffering relate to Baptism?  Note that the "dying" we experience in Baptism is real dying.  Baptism is real dying during Lent, something must die just as something must die. When we go into the pool at baptism. But the point is not the death of the new life. How does this relate to the Church's celebration of martyrdom?  

The Paschal Fast begins on Good Friday and extends to Holy Communion on Easter.  We usually think of Good Friday as the day of fast and abstinence and thus associate the fast with suffering and especially with Jesus' suffering on the cross -- rather than fasting in preparation for the Paschal Feast, and fasting with the Catechumens as they hunger for their first Eucharist. We also do not always associate “fasting from food” with “fasting from the Eucharist” – perhaps because we do not think of the Eucharist “eating food” but only as "Communion with Jesus”?

Constitution on the Liturgy, 110. During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social. The practice of penance should be fostered in ways that are possible in our own times and in different regions, and according to the circumstances of the faithful; it should be encouraged by the authorities mentioned in Art. 22.

Nevertheless, let the paschal fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind.

Islam and Ramadan   The Islamic fast during Ramadan takes on a special social character.  During the year, the rich are well fed and the poor are hungry.  During Ramadan, we are all together; everyone is hungry together.  Ramadan is a month of solidarity.

40 DAYS:  From an early tradition, Sundays were not fast days because every Sunday celebrates the Resurrection. Thus there are 6 fast days in the week, and 6 weeks of Lent, (=36) and Ash Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday (before First Sunday of Lent) (36+4= 40).  But the 40 is a "biblical 40" -- more quality than quantity. 

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Symbols of Lent

This is Advent violet, (Serum blue):


This is Lent violet, (Roman purple):


"The December 1987 edition of the Newsletter contained a clarification on liturgical colors in response to the many questions that come to the Secretariat regarding the use of blue vestments during Advent. . . . The official color for the seasons of Advent and Lent is violet. This color, which is often called purple, has a variety of shades ranging from blue-violet to red-violet. The shade that is traditional known as "Roman purple" is actually a red-purple. Elsewhere in Europe, violet tended to be more blue-purple than the Roman color. This difference is partially attributable to the variations in violet dyes obtained from shellfish in various regions of Europe. -- Those who have proposed the use of blue for Advent have do so in order to distinguish between the Advent season and the specifically penitential season of Lent. the same effect can be achieved by following the official color sequence of the church, which requires the use of violet for Advent and Lent, while taking advantage of the varying shades which exist for violet. Hence the bluer hues of violet might be used for Advent and the redder shades for Lent. Light blue vestments are not authorized for use in the United States." (Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Newsletter, September 1988, Vol XXIV, pp 35-36.)

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Johnson Chapter 5

Maxwell E. Johnson Chapter 5: Baptismal Preparation and the Origins of Lent

1.  The Primitive Pre-Paschal Fast

2.  A Three-Week Pre-Paschal Preparation

3.  The Forty Days As A Pre-Paschal Season

The key point for us today is this:  when you consider the meaning of lent, what meanings are evoked in that part of your "spiritual iceberg" that lies unseen, beneath the water.  Is the focus of lent the death of Christ on cavalry and our suffering and penance during lent is a preparation for the most penitential day of the church year, namely Good Friday.

Or is baptism the focus of lent and the penance that we do during lent is a associated with the dying part of baptism (see Romans 6) and the highpoint of the season is the Easter vigil during which the elect celebrate the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.  Good Friday is a day of victory which celebrate the triumphant cross (we read the passion according to John) in which the risen reigns triumphant on the throne of the cross and from the cross hands over his spirit into the church.  Which is born from his wounded side.  we fast on Good Friday and Holy Saturday to heighten our awareness of what is happening at the Easter Vigil.

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Spirituality of the Season

[Reprinted from: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Baptism, the Gift of Lent" St. Anthony Messenger, 102:10 (March, 1995) p 57.]

"Merry Lent!" "Happy Holy Week!" The words don't seem to fit together, do they! They don't have the same natural ring that "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" had only a few short months ago. Lent -- the forty day period of prayer, fasting, and alms giving which begins this year on the first of March -- is probably not your favorite liturgical season. Why is that? What associations do you make with Lent?

Close your eyes and say to yourself LENT. What pictures come to mind? Penance, purple, fish, ashes, fasting, sacrifice, giving up movies, giving up candy -- these are the images many Catholics associate with Lent. The reform of the Liturgical Year mandated by the Second Vatican Council restores a more ancient and traditional image to the center of this liturgical season -- the central image for Lent is BAPTISM. Baptism provides the key to understanding the history, the scripture readings, the symbols, and practice of Lent. If when you close your eyes and say LENT the first image that comes to mind is the picture of a BAPTISM (perhaps even the memory of the initiation ceremonies of your parish Easter Vigil), you will be in a much better position to understand what you will be hearing and seeing and celebrating in church during these coming forty days.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [CSL] set forth the Council's priorities for the restoration of the Liturgical Year: first, Sunday is to be restored as the first and primary feast day (CSL 106); second, the "liturgical year is to be so revised that the traditional customs and usages of the sacred seasons [Lent/Easter, Advent/Christmas] are preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times, their specific character is to be retained, so that they duly nourish the devotion of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Christian redemption and above all the paschal mystery." (CSL 107) With regard to the season of Lent, this means restoring its Baptismal character. "More use is to be made of the Baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy." (CSL 108)

In the fourth and fifth centuries the Church developed an system of rites to accompany the faith journey of those who wished to become Christians. The final forty days of this journey -- the final forty day retreat before Baptism -- became what we now call Lent. Lent is the time for the catechumens to pray and prepare for their Baptism and a time for those of us who are already baptized to renew our own Baptismal promises and fervor.

When was the last time you though seriously about the fact that you are baptized? For some Christians Baptism is an event that happened long ago without much impact on what they do today. Once, long ago, I saw Niagara Falls. It was a wonderful experience, but it didn't change the rest of my life. Also once, years ago, I was ordained a priest. That experience did change the rest of my life. There are events that change our lives forever: Michael's marriage, Amy's becoming a mother, my ordination, YOUR Baptism.

Is Baptism the reason you got out of bed this morning? For some, that may seem a funny question. It really shouldn't be if we really understand the rich continuing impact of our Baptism. The promises of our Baptism should influence the countless decisions of our daily lives. "Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213)

When Baptism is the focus of Lent, the "negative" aspects of this liturgical season -- the things we have to "give up" -- can be placed in a better perspective. Baptism is both a dying and a rising. St. Paul says, "If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." (Romans 6:8) The penitential aspect of Lent, the "giving something up" part, is related to the "dying" aspect of baptism. But our hope is directed toward the "rising" part of baptism; the "dying" is not an end in itself. "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." (John 12:24) The intention of the farmer is not to kill the wheat. Nor does the farmer complain about having to "give up" a lot of wheat for seed and planting.

A more personal example: I had a hard time starting grade school. First grade: bottom of the heap. Everybody else was older and stronger and smarter. They could write cursive, multiply, and knew the capitals of all fifty states. But eventually I became an eighth grader and I was older and stronger and smarter and knew all those things that first graders didn't know. And at that very time when I was at the top, it was time to "give it up" and step down and start over again as a high school freshman where everybody else was older and stronger and smarter.

I didn't know whether or not I wanted to "give up" being in the eighth grade and top of the heap! I didn't like this idea of moving on. I thought I might just stick around a while and spend a couple more years in the eighth grade. Needless to say, Mom and Dad thought that was a completely stupid idea! Give it up! Move on!

Sometimes we get caught at a particular stage of growth in our Christian lives. And during Lent we may hear the voice of the Spirit urging us "Give it up! Move on!" Often the thing (or place or person) we are asked to "give up" is not a "big sin"; often it is not a "sin" at all. Often it is like the seed that needs to be planted; often it is like eighth grade -- good it itself, but only in its proper time. (Sin is, after all, the failure to grow.) Maybe this Lent is the time to move on.

For most readers of this column the "giving up" and "moving on" will be much more subtle than "I am going to give up robbing banks for Lent" or "I am going to give up selling cocaine to school children." (However, if there are any bank robbers or drug dealers reading this, those are good things to give up!) For most readers the "moving on" will involve letting go of something good in order that an even greater good might be achieved. In order that a more Christ-like Christian might rise at Easter.

Look at the Scriptures through the lens of Baptism during this Lenten season. What do the readings proclaimed at Sunday Eucharist say about your Baptismal promises? What reminders of Baptism do you have around the house? Do you still have the candle you received at your baptism? (Or perhaps that of your child?) Is it put away in the closet? Lent might be a time to get it out (or some other reminder of Baptism) and place it on your table or desk as a reminder of the central focus of Lent.

Baptism is dying and rising. If the rising is to be a real resurrection, the dying will be a real death! Death, in whatever form, is never easy; "Happy Lent" will never catch on as a greeting. But if we take the "dying" of Lent seriously, "Happy Easter" will mean a lot more this year than simply a phrase on a greeting card. Jesus himself assures us "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." (John 15:11)

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To Think About

1.  Retreat -- if Lent is a retreat then it is a time to do less, not more.

2.  How to encourage families to "make lent" in their homes? TRADITION: PRAYER, FASTING, GIVING ALMS; Rice box; ; Lent basket; Purple; no palm; cross...

3.  If lent is preparation time for Baptism, then we should not celebrate baptisms during lent (even of infants). How inform the faithful?

Giving things up? Dying part of being born; Body / Soul or Body Person -- e.g. giving up guilt.

Devotions: Bring devotions into the spirit of CSL 13.

"Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful, through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices." (Norms, 17)

Sunday Readings provide base for pastoral view of Lent. Hebrew Scriptures recall "the ascent of the race toward the Pasch of Christ." (Martimort, 73). All three cycles show God's Call to the Hebrew People from the beginnings of time through Abraham, Moses, the Exile and the Prophets. Gospel cycle A: concerned with Catechumenate Scrutinies; cycle B: exalting of Christ through the Cross; cycle C: conversion through revealing God's Meaning;

Progression of Themes Within Lent. Begins in context of awareness of Original Sin and an awareness of our dependence on God. The Lenten structure provides us with the opportunity to examine and to reform our lives. Not a solitary return to God. Communal Church participates in a threefold way: Catechumenate--bringing new people into Body. Reconciliation of penitents: bringing fallen away back. Deepening spiritual life of those already in Church. A particular emphasis on metanoia; both individual and communal.

Attitudes Towards Lent. In early church, Lenten practices were valid only under certain conditions: Fraternal love. Authentic union with God through selfless prayer and dispositions caused by fasting. Today, can't see Lent in terms of individual acts of repentance or mortification. Is an entire community realizing their need for God.

Practices In Lent. Prayers and practices of Lent serve as sacramentum, a sign of Christ's saving mysteries for us. Practices should help lead us to conversion. Disciplining the body affects the soul. Don't view such practices as fasting as end-in-themselves. Should help focus us in our contemplation of God. Sacramental Practices also help focus us towards God. Reconciliation and Initiation help us to change old habits and to help us lead life differently than before.

"We must therefore cease to think of Lent first and foremost in terms of ‘practices'; we must experience it rather as a time in which we open ourselves to the divine life that God seeks to restore to us." (Nocent, 55-56)

When you close you eyes and think Lent what is the first word that comes to mind?

What are the principle symbols of Lent?

What are the gospels the Sundays of Cycle A of Lent?

Discuss the differences in devotional practices during Lent before and after the Second Vatican Council.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 04/01/16 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at