Traditionally, the few weeks before Lent are a time for us to prepare for Lent. During Lent we try to respond more faithfully to God’s grace: to be better Catholics, to be better people.
It is a time when we are united with Catholics throughout the world. Everyone who tries to practise their faith is thinking and talking about Lent. We all try to pray, fast and carry out works of charity. It is important to remember that we do these things with the purpose of growing in the love of God. It is not a self-help exercise, a healthy eating competition or a celebration of mindfulness; we are trying to love God with all our heart and soul and mind.
So I want to reflect on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving over these three Sundays in preparation for Lent, beginning with prayer.
We say prayers in public and in private and both are essential to the life of every Christian. The greatest of all prayers is the Holy Mass because it is the sacrifice of Our Lord made present and offered here on our altars where Jesus Christ humbles Himself to come among us under the appearances of bread and wine.
God Himself in the commandments, and the Church in her precepts require as a serious obligation that we attend Holy Mass every week. It is essential to our lives and we should not miss going to Mass unless there is a serious reason such as illness that prevents us from coming.
The Mass is not an optional extra that we fit in when there is nothing else that takes our fancy. It is the source and summit of all our other prayers and good works: all the graces that we need flow from the sacrifice of Christ, and all our prayer, penance and works are for His glory.
Other public prayers include the daily weekday Mass, and other devotions such as Benediction and Stations of the Cross. These help us to pray together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Family prayers have a privileged place among those prayers we say together: St John Paul called the family the “domestic Church.”
When it comes to our private prayers, the Church gives us great freedom. Saints and holy writers have from time to time composed Novenas, reflections, litanies and other devotions from which we may choose. As well as prayer books, it is nowadays possible to carry a whole collection of prayers and devotions on a mobile phone to use in our homes and when travelling.
Of all the private prayers, the Rosary has a privileged place, thanks to Our Lady’s encouragement and the authoritative teaching of many Popes. It takes a quarter of an hour to say five decades of the Rosary, and no quarter of an hour could have more power for good in our own lives and for the world around us.
We should pray every day to praise and adore God, to thank Him for His gifts, to repent of our sins, and to ask Him for His grace. Prayer should not be seen as a chore, but a blessing because Our God is so close to us, listens to us with kindness, and deigns to be present with us in the Blessed Sacrament. I encourage you to choose something concrete and achievable by way of offering the Lord a little more in your practice of prayer during Lent.