MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. We are preparing to follow the
path of Lent, which will lead us to the solemn celebration of the central
mystery of faith, the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. We
are preparing for the favourable time which the Church offers the faithful so
that they may contemplate the work of salvation accomplished by our Lord on the
Cross. The heavenly Father’s saving plan was completed in the free and
total gift to us of the only begotten Son. “No one takes my life from me,
but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10:18), Jesus declares, leaving no
doubt that he decides to sacrifice his own life for the salvation of the world. In
confirmation of so great a gift of love, the Redeemer goes on: “Greater love
has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn
Lent, the providential time for conversion, helps us to contemplate this
stupendous mystery of love. It is a return to the roots of our faith, so
that by pondering the measureless gift of grace which is Redemption, we cannot
fail to realize that all has been given to us by God’s loving initiative. In
order to meditate upon this aspect of the mystery of salvation, I have chosen as
the theme for this year’s Lenten Message the Lord’s words: “You received
without paying, give without pay” (Mt 10:8).
2. God has freely given us his
Son: who has deserved or could ever deserve such a privilege? Saint Paul
says: “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, but they are
justified by his grace as a gift” (Rom 3:23-24). In his infinite mercy
God loved us, not permitting himself to be blocked by the grievous state of
separation to which man had been consigned by sin. He graciously stooped down to
our weakness, and made it the cause of a new and still more wondrous outpouring
of his love. The Church does not cease to proclaim this mystery of infinite
goodness, exalting God’s free choice and his desire not to condemn man but to
draw him back into communion with himself.
“You received without paying, give without pay”. May these words of the
Gospel echo in the heart of all Christian communities on their penitential
pilgrimage to Easter. May Lent, recalling the mystery of the Lord’s Death
and Resurrection, lead all Christians to marvel in their heart of hearts at the
greatness of such a gift. Yes! We have received without pay. Is
not our entire life marked by God’s kindness? The beginning of life and
its marvellous development: this is a gift. And because it is gift, life
can never be regarded as a possession or as private property, even if the
capabilities we now have to improve the quality of life can lead us to think
that man is the “master” of life. The achievements of medicine and
biotechnology can sometimes lead man to think of himself as his own creator, and
to succumb to the temptation of tampering with “the tree of life” (Gn 3:24).
It is also worth repeating here that not everything that is technically possible
is morally acceptable. Scientific work aimed at securing a quality of life
more in keeping with human dignity is admirable, but it must never be forgotten
that human life is a gift, and that it remains precious even when marked by
suffering and limitations. A gift to be accepted and to be loved at all
times: received without pay and to be placed without pay at the service of
3. In setting before us the
example of Christ offering himself for us on Calvary, Lent helps us in a unique
way to understand that life is redeemed in him. Through the Holy Spirit,
Jesus renews our life and makes us sharers in the divine life which draws us
into the intimate life of God and enables us to experience his love for us. This
is a sublime gift, which the Christian cannot fail to proclaim with joy. In
his Gospel, Saint John writes: “This is eternal life, that they know you the
only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). This life
is passed on to us in Baptism, and we must nourish it constantly by responding
to it faithfully, both individually and communally, through prayer, the
celebration of the Sacraments and evangelical witness.
Since we have received this life freely, we must in turn offer it freely to our
brothers and sisters. This is what Jesus asked of the disciples when he
sent them out as his witnesses in the world: “You received without
paying, give without pay”. And the first gift to be given is the gift of
a holy life, bearing witness to the freely given love of God. May the
Lenten journey be for all believers an unceasing summons to enter more deeply
into this special vocation of ours. As believers, we must be open to a life
marked by “gratuitousness”, by the giving of ourselves unreservedly to God
4. “What do you have,” Saint
Paul asks, “that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). The demand which
follows this recognition is that of loving our brothers and sisters, and of
dedicating ourselves to them. The more needy they are, the more urgent the
believer’s duty to serve them. Does not God permit human need so that by
responding to the needs of others we may learn to free ourselves from our egoism
and to practise authentic Gospel love? The command of Jesus is clear: “If
you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the
tax-collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:46). The world prizes human
relationships based on self-interest and personal gain, and this fosters an
egocentric vision of life, in which too often there is no room for the poor and
weak. Every person, even the least gifted, must be welcomed and loved for
themselves, regardless of their qualities and defects. Indeed, the greater
their hardship, the more they must be the object of our practical love. This
is the love to which the Church, through her countless institutions, bears
witness in accepting responsibility for the sick, the marginalized, the poor and
the exploited. In this way, Christians become apostles of hope and builders
of the civilization of love.
It is highly significant that Jesus spoke the words “You received without
paying, give without pay” as he sent the Apostles out to spread the Gospel of
salvation, which is his first and foremost gift to humanity. Christ wants
his Kingdom, which is already close at hand (cf. Mt 10:5ff.), to be spread
through gestures of gratuitous love accomplished by his disciples. This is
what the Apostles did in the early days of Christianity, and those who met them
saw them as bearers of a message greater than themselves. In our own day
too the good done by believers becomes a sign, and often an invitation to
believe. When, like the Good Samaritan, Christians respond to the needs of
their neighbour, theirs is never merely material assistance. It is always a
proclamation of the Kingdom as well, and speaks of the full meaning of life,
hope and love.
5. Dear Brothers and Sisters! Let
this be how we prepare to live this Lent: in practical generosity towards the
poorest of our brothers and sisters! By opening our hearts to them, we
realize ever more deeply that what we give to others is our response to the many
gifts which the Lord continues to give to us. We have received without
paying, let us give without pay!
What better time is there than Lent for offering this testimony of
gratuitousness which the world so badly needs? In the very love which
God has for us, there lies the call to give ourselves freely to others in turn. I
thank all those throughout the world – lay people, religious and priests –
who offer this witness of charity. May it be true of all Christians,
whatever the circumstances in which they live.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love and Hope, be our guide and strength on
this Lenten journey. Assuring you all of an affectionate remembrance in my
prayers, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to each of you, especially to
those engaged day after day on the many frontiers of charity.
From the Vatican, 4 October 2001, Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Applicable Articles from the NCCB/USCC:
Fast from Food, Violence, Apathy,
Notes Bishops' Liturgy Director Linking Ash Wednesday
to Ground Zero
WASHINGTON (January 15, 2002) -- Christians are called to fast during Lent, and the fast can be not only from food but also from violence and apathy, said Father James Moroney, head of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy.
Father Moroney described penitential practices in a reflection in which he also contrasted the life-giving ashes of Ash Wednesday with the ashes of the dead at Ground Zero and the Pentagon after September 11.
He made his comments in a reflection which is the keystone of the Ash Wednesday/Lent page on the U.S. bishops' Web site: www.usccb.org. The site also includes educational and prayer resources and descriptions of how dioceses from around the country will this year mark Lent, which begins February 13.
"Looking over the ruins of Ground Zero or passing the blackened walls of the Pentagon, we see ashes before our eyes too often these past six months," Father Moroney said. "For some, the ashes conjure up death and darkness and the end of things. The Wednesday we are marked with ashes, however, heralds life and the eternal meaning of our existence."
Father Moroney noted the start of Lent.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads," he said.
"We are smudged with an ash-laden cross so that each of us might turn from all that is earthly, dark and sinful and return to the Gospel of Life in this Season of Lent."
He explained the significance of fasting and prayer.
"By letting go of the food and pleasures we do not really need, we participate in Christ's self-emptying in becoming man and in dying upon the cross," he said. "We too must empty ourselves of the non-essentials, so that we might cling to the only One we truly need, Christ Jesus, and Him crucified." He listed several forms of fasting.
Fasting From Food
"An empty stomach makes room way deep inside–room for God, room for prayer. Fasting then, does not just empty us out, but provides the space for quiet prayer when first we wake, for sharing with God the burdens of the day at noontime, and for resting in Him as the sun goes down," he said. "Do I pray every morning and noontime and at night? Do I ask God's help in the heat of the day? Do I ask forgiveness for my sins before I sleep and rest in God's care through the night? Do I pray before meals, even in restaurants or at the drive-through? Do I provide an example of prayer for others? Do I pray for those who hurt and offend me, as well as my friends? Do I thank God for all the good things He brings my way and seek His merciful love for my sins?"
Fasting From Sin
"Lent is a time of fasting from sin. When was the last time I went to confession? When was the last time I really looked deep inside and admitted that secret sin? When was the last time I trusted God enough to ask Him to cleanse me from the inside out?" he asked.
Fasting From Ignorance
"Lent is a time of fasting from ignorance as well. It's a time to begin again to read the bible and listen to what God is telling me He wants me to do," he said. "Do I take time to study my faith, read the catechism, hear my bishop and his priests, and seek to truly be a man or woman of the Church?"
Fasting From Violence
Lent is a time to fast from violence and to witness ‘the peace the world cannot give,'" he said. "Do I avoid not just the violence of hands, but also the cruel words born of angry hearts, the thoughtless gossip of jealous ambition, and the idle sarcasm which refuses to care?"
Fasting From Apathy
"Lent is a time to fast from the apathy which refuses to use the gifts God has given us," he said. "Can I get involved in parish work in living the Gospel, in advocating the Catholic passion for social justice, in supporting the poor, the widow and the orphan, and in defending the inalienable right to life of even the most defenseless human being?"
Office of Communications
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194 (202) 541-3000
January 15, 2002 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Spanish (Español) Version
for Today's Catholics
Committee on Pastoral Practices
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
United States Catholic Conference
In March 2000, the Administrative Committee authorized the Committee on Pastoral Practices to develop a brief summary of the Church's discipline with regard to penitential practices. This resource is intended to further the Jubilee Year observances undertaken throughout the dioceses and to complement the bishops' Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence (1966). The Committee on Pastoral Practices is indebted to the Most Reverend Robert F. Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay, for his generous assistance and keen insight in authoring the text. Penitential Practices for Today's Catholics was approved by the Committee on Pastoral Practices on November 12, 2000. It is authorized for publication by the undersigned.
Msgr. Dennis M. Schnurr
General Secretary, NCCB/USCC
Scripture texts used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, copyright © 1991, 1986, and 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, DC 20017 and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2001, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Washington, D.C. Please photocopy and distribute this resource.
During the Jubilee Year, we, the Church, focused our attention on the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, urged all the people of God to grow in conformity to Christ, who leads us to the Father through the gift of the Holy Spirit. One important way to grow in the Lord is to observe the penitential practices that strengthen us for resisting temptation, allow us to express our sorrow for the sins we have committed, and help to repair the tear caused by our sinning.*
Penitential practices take many forms: apologizing to an injured party, healing divisions within our families, fasting during the Lenten season, or graciously accepting the menial tasks of life. The purpose of penance is not to diminish life but to enrich it.
Jesus, in Matthew's Gospel, calls us to pray, to fast, and to give alms: "when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites," "when you fast, do not look gloomy," "when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing" (Mt 6:5, 16, 3, respectively). As a Church, we ponder and pray over this call every Ash Wednesday. In a most profound way, the three spiritual exercises identified by Jesus are directed toward the nurturing of relationships.
Prayer, that process of listening to and responding to God's daily call, sustains and nurtures our relationship with our triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without prayer, personal and communal, this relationship is diminished, sometimes to the point of complete silence on our part. Every day the Spirit of Jesus invites us to enter into that serious conversion that leads to blessed communion.
Fasting, a very special form of penance, and Jesus' second call, has been a consistent part of our Catholic tradition. Fasting assists us in getting our own house in order. All of us have to deal with areas of servitude, whether in regard to smoking or alcohol consumption, misused sexuality, uncontrolled gambling, psychological hang-ups, spiritual obsessions, use of stimulants, immoderate use of the Internet, excessive amounts of television watching, or preoccupations with other forms of entertainment. By fasting and self-denial, by living lives of moderation, we have more energy to devote to God's purposes and a better self-esteem that helps us to be more concerned with the well-being of others.
Voluntary fasting from food creates in us a greater openness to God's Spirit and deepens our compassion for those who are forced to go without food. The discomfort brought about by fasting unites us to the sufferings of Christ. Fasting should bring to mind the sufferings of all those for whom Christ suffered. One may refrain from certain foods strictly for dietary purposes, but this would not be Christian penance. Rather, our fasting and refraining is in response to the workings of the Holy Spirit. By fasting we sense a deeper hunger and thirst for God. In a paradoxical way, we feast through fasting—we feast on the spiritual values that lead to works of charity and service. Did not the prophet Isaiah proclaim that such works characterize the fasting that God desires?
This . . . is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own. (Is 58:6-7)
Our weekly and for some, daily celebration of the Eucharist also affords us the opportunity to fast before receiving the Lord. This eucharistic fast disposes us to experience more deeply the coming of the Lord and expresses our seriousness and reverence for the Lord's coming into our lives. This practice, along with all the other penitential practices, is a means to an end: growth in our life in Christ. Whenever the means becomes the end, we are vulnerable to self-righteousness and spiritual arrogance.
The third call of the Lord is to give alms. Jesus was always concerned about those who were poor and in need. He was impressed by the widow who, though having so little, shared her resources with others: "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood" (Lk 21:3-4). To be a disciple of Christ means to live a life of charity. To be a disciple of Jesus is to live a life of stewardship, generously giving of our time, talent, and treasure.
Our Lord's threefold call to pray, to fast, and to give alms is richly interconnected. In prayer the Holy Spirit, always active in our lives, shows us those areas where we are not free—areas that call for penance—as well as those people who are in need of our care. Through fasting, our spirit becomes more open to hearing God's call, and we receive new energies for performing works of charity. Almsgiving puts us in contact with the needy whom we then bring back to God in prayer.
At the heart of all penance is the call to conversion. Jesus' imperative "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mk 1:15) makes explicit this connection between authentic discipleship and penitential discipline. Discipleship, our following of Jesus, embraces discipline, a firm commitment to do whatever is demanded in furthering God's kingdom. Viewed in this way, the virtue of penance is not optional, just as weeding a garden is not optional for a responsible caretaker. The gardener is concerned with a bountiful harvest; the disciple is concerned about greater conformity to the person of Jesus.
If we are serious about embracing the penitential discipline that is rooted in the call to discipleship, then we will identify specific times and places for prayer, penance, and works of charity. Growth in spiritual maturity demands a certain level of specificity, for it shows that we take seriously God's call to discipline and are willing to hold ourselves accountable. In our Catholic tradition we specify certain days and seasons for special works of penance: Fridays, on which we commemorate the death of the Lord, and Lent, our forty days of preparation for the Easter mysteries.
Recalling our Lord's Passion and death on Good Friday, we hold all Fridays to have special significance. Jesus' self-denial and self-offering invite us to enter freely into his experience by forgoing food, bearing humiliations, and forgiving those who injure us. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of all spiri-tual transformation, this can be done—and done with a spirit of quiet joy. For Christians, suffering and joy are not incompatible.
The season of Lent has traditionally been a time of prolonged penance for the Christian community. Together we prepare for the great Easter mysteries by committing ourselves to fulfill our baptismal call to maturity, holiness, service, and community. Our response to each call will demand sacrifice, mortification, asceticism, and denial of our own self-will. Mortification helps to "put to death" the cancer cells of sin; asceticism brings a discipline that makes us increasingly free and responsible. Again, this action and grace of the Holy Spirit are what enlighten, enkindle, and empower us to live more fully the way of discipleship.
Our American culture, which emphasizes having many possessions and an excessive selfpreoccupation, has difficulty accepting the penitential practices of our Catholic tradition. Current philosophies would have us believe that we are here to be entertained and that we are born to be content. Jesus' message is one of service: "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). In this modern context, we fulfill our mission of evangelization by living the Gospel. Witnessing to gospel values helps to transform our culture. Our culture is in great need of justice and charity, virtues that cannot be achieved without grace and openness to conversion. There are always unconverted areas of minds and hearts; there are always factors in our social structures that need uprooting, repair, or restoration. All of us are called to participate in this evangelizing work of transforming our world.
During the Jubilee Year, our Holy Father called us to conversion, reconciliation, and solidarity. To continue to live that call, we might take the spiritual and corporal works of mercy as a penitential model. These fourteen practices demand great sacrifice and generosity; they also draw us more deeply into conformity with the Lord. Focusing on one of these works each week may be a practical way of integrating them into our personal, family, and parish lives.
Corporal Works of Mercy
- Feeding the hungry
- Sheltering the homeless
- Clothing the naked
- Visiting the sick
- Visiting the imprisoned
- Giving drink to the thirsty
- burying the dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy
Penitential practices express in visible signs and deeds the interior conversion of heart. Because we are called by Jesus to give our whole selves to the Father, conversion means a radical reorientation of our whole lives toward God's kingdom. We turn away from evil, resolve not to sin, and trust in God's amazing grace. There will be sadness for past wrongs but deep joy in the working of grace.
- Converting sinners
- Instructing the ignorant
- Advising the doubtful
- Comforting the sorrowful
- Bearing wrongs patiently
- Forgiving injuries
- Praying for the living and dead
In the end, our life in Christ is about loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and about sharing God's love with others. Penitential practices are essential if we are to turn away from sin, believe in the Gospel, and share God's love with one another.
* This resource is presented as a pastoral tool for cultivating the penitential practices in one's daily life. While its focus is limited to a discussion of the Church's penitential practices, it serves to promote these practices as intimately related to the sacrament of penance. We exhort all of the faithful to accept the Lord's invitation to experience God's mercy through the sacrament of penance, which stands at the heart of the Church's penitential life.
Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance
Through the sacrament of penance, we, the faithful, acknowledge the sins we have committed, express our sorrow for them, and, intending to reform our ways, receive God's forgiveness and become reconciled with God and with the Church.
The Season of Lent
During this forty-day period each year, the Church unites itself to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. To prepare to celebrate the Easter mysteries, we devote time during this special season to pray, to perform works of charity, and to deny ourselves by fulfilling obligations more faithfully.
The Season of Advent as a Time of Preparation
Advent inaugurates the beginning of the liturgical year; it is the four-week period during which the Church prepares to celebrate Christmas. Advent has a twofold character. In addition to being a time of preparation for the commemoration of Jesus' first coming into the world, it is also directed to Christ's Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is a season of joyful and spiritual expectation.
- Ash Wednesday—This day marks the beginning of the Lenten season. The imposition of ashes is an ancient penitential practice symbolizing our dependence upon God's mercy and forgiveness. Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence in the Church.
- Good Friday—Christ suffered and died for our salvation on Friday. On the Friday that we call "Good," the Church gathers to commemorate Jesus' Passion and death. Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence. The Good Friday fast is the Paschal fast—a fast of anticipation and longing for the Passover of the Lord, which should continue, when possible, through Holy Saturday.
- Fridays During Lent—In the United States, the tradition of abstaining from meat on each Friday during Lent is maintained.
- Fridays Throughout the Year In memory of Christ's suffering and death, the Church prescribes making each Friday throughout the year a penitential day. All of us are urged to prepare appropriately for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday.
Forms of Penance
Sample Expressions of Penance
- Prayer—In prayer, we encounter and walk with God. During the Lenten season, we are encouraged to make opportunities for individual and common prayer. Opportunities for prayer can include attending Mass, praying the liturgy of the hours, praying within the family, visiting a chapel, prayerfully reading the Bible, reciting the rosary, or praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
- Fasting—By refraining from eating, we signify our oneness with the Lord, acknowledge our need for conversion, and give witness to our solidarity with those less fortunate. Catholics who are eighteen years and older and in good health are bound until their fifty-ninth birthday by the obligation to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Traditionally, the canonical obligation of fasting has been understood in the Church as the taking of only one full meal a day.
- Almsgiving—This penitential practice entails giving money or other resources for the benefit of those in need. One possible source of this money is that which has been saved from fasting or other means of self-denial.
- Abstinence—In the United States, this penitential practice consists of refraining from the consumption of meat. The Latin Church's requirement of abstinence binds Catholics after they have celebrated their fourteenth birthday, and it is practiced on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays during Lent. Pastors and parents are encouraged to see that children who are not bound by the obligation to fast and abstain are led to appreciate an authentic sense of penance.
- The Practice of Charity "Which Covers a Multitude of Sins" (1 Pt 4:8)—Motivated by love for God and for one's neighbor, we express solicitude through various works for those who are in need, especially the poor, the sick, the underprivileged, the aged, the lonely, the imprisoned, the discouraged, the bedridden, and the overburdened.
- Works of Mercy—Through charitable actions (see p. 7) we express compassionate care for others by easing their burdens and attending to their bodily and spiritual needs.
- Penitential Rite at Mass—This is part of the Introductory Rite of the Mass, following the entrance song and greeting, and preceding the Gloria and opening prayer. The rite's invitation to repentance enables us to express readiness to hear the Word of God, celebrate the Eucharist, and receive the Eucharist with a humble and contrite spirit.
- Eucharistic Fast—The eucharistic fast is an ancient custom whereby we prepare to receive holy communion and thereby show due reverence for the sacrament. Latin Catholics who are in good health are required to abstain from any food or drink, with the exceptions of water and medicine, for at least one hour before receiving holy communion.
- Asceticism—The practice of asceticism is a discipline based on self-control and self-denial that helps an individual or a community attain spiritual goals. This discipline is exercised with the aim of achieving greater freedom for self-giving in love. In this way, we seek to imitate the self-emptying of Christ.
- Mortification—In general terms, mortification refers to the radical self-denial and wholehearted giving of oneself to God that Jesus called for when he told his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mt 16:24). More specifically, mortification is a form of ascetic discipline that involves denial of some kind of enjoyment in order to gain a greater detachment from one's desires. The goal of mortification is fullness of life, not death—freedom, not enslavement.
- Sacrifices—Joining ourselves to Christ's sacrifice, we freely give up time, energy, leisure, and other goods for the sake of others.
- Examination of Conscience—Through this prayerful and reflective process, we review the state of our spiritual health and identify those areas of our lives and of our relationships where we are not acting in a truly Christian manner and where reform is needed. Christians are encouraged to make a brief examination of conscience before retiring for the night.
- Spiritual Direction—Under the guidance of a spiritual director, a person is led to a deeper understanding of his or her relationship with God. Personal weaknesses and strengths are identified in view of their effect on spiritual growth.
- Stations of the Cross—This popular devotional practice was developed in order to permit those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to follow in the steps of Jesus along his journey from judgment to burial. Catholics throughout the centuries have paused to pray the stations of the cross, especially during the Lenten season.
- Pilgrimages as Signs of Penance—For centuries the Church has promoted the practice of pilgrimage as a means of atoning for sin and as an aid to personal conversion and holiness. Pilgrims, who journey to a specific holy place to commemorate a certain event, pause to reflect upon where they have been and where they are going along their journey in faith. Pilgrimages mirror symbolically the pilgrim nature of the Church, which is on a continuous journey to the new and heavenly Jerusalem.
- Efforts at reconciliation with a family member or neighbor
- Tears of repentance
- Concern for the salvation of our sisters and brothers
- Prayer to the saints for their intercession
- Patient acceptance of the cross we must bear to be faithful to Christ
- Defense of justice and right
- Admission of faults to God and to one another
- Mutual correction
- Offer and acceptance of forgiveness
- Endurance of persecution for the sake of God's kingdom
- Development of a spirit of penance
- Witness to a Christian way of life
Secretariate for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194 (202) 541-3000
October 03, 2001
Copyright © by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
October 03, 2001 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishops' Committee Issues Guidance
on Penitential Practices for Today's Catholics
WASHINGTON (February 27, 2001) -- The National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pastoral Practices has issued a resource entitled "Penitential Practices for Today's Catholics."
The booklet contains a brief summary of the Church's discipline with respect to penitential practices. It is intended to further the Jubilee Year observances undertaken throughout the dioceses of the United States and to complement the bishops' 1966 Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence.
With text written by Most Reverend Robert F. Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay, the 16-page booklet discusses, among other things, the Church's penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and exhorts all to accept the Lord's invitation to experience God's mercy through the Sacrament of Penance.
In a letter to bishops, Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire, Chairman of the Committee on Pastoral Practices, announced publication of the resource and urged its wide distribution in Catholic parishes, as we "mark the beginning of the Lenten Season and...embark upon our common journey in preparation for the Easter mysteries."
The resource says that "penitential practices take many forms: apologizing to an injured party, healing divisions within our families, fasting during the Lenten season, or graciously accepting the menial tasks of life. The purpose of penance is not to diminish life but to enrich it."
"In a most profound way, the three spiritual exercises identified by Jesus (to pray, to fast, and to give alms) are directed toward the nurturing of relationships," the booklet states.
Concerning prayer, the resource says: "that process of listening to and responding to God's daily call, sustains and nurtures our relationship with our triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Without prayer, personal and communal, this relationship is diminished, sometimes to the point of complete silence on our part."
On fasting: "Fasting, a very special form of penance, and Jesus' second call, has been a consistent part of our Catholic tradition. Fasting assists us in getting our own house in order. All of us have to deal with areas of servitude, whether in regard to smoking or alcohol consumption, misused sexuality, uncontrolled gambling, psychological hang-ups, spiritual obsessions, use of stimulants, immoderate use of the Internet, excessive amounts of television watching, or preoccupations with other forms of entertainment. By fasting and self-denial, by living lives of moderation, we have more energy to devote to God's purposes and a better self-esteem that helps us to be more concerned with the well-being of others."
"Voluntary fasting from food creates in us a greater openness to God's spirit and deepens our compassion for those who are forced to go without food," the resource states. "One may refrain from certain foods strictly for dietary purposes, but this would not be Christian penance. Rather, our fasting and refraining are in response to the workings of the Holy Spirit. By fasting we sense a deeper hunger and thirst for God. In a paradoxical way, we feast through fasting."
"The third call of the Lord is to give alms," the booklet continues. "Jesus was always concerned about those who were poor and in need. He was impressed by the widow who, though having so little, shared her resources with others...To be a disciple of Jesus is to live a life of stewardship, generously giving of our time, talent, and treasure...Almsgiving puts us in contact with the needy whom we then bring back to God in prayer." Exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are ways, the resource continues, that we answer the call to conversion in "our personal, family, and parish lives."
Elsewhere, the resource states that the call of Jesus to pray, to fast, and to give alms is "richly interconnected. In prayer, the Holy Spirit, always active in our lives, shows us those areas where we are not free--areas that call for penance--as well as those people who are in need of our care. Through fasting, our spirit becomes more open to hearing God's call, and we receive new energies for performing works of charity. Almsgiving puts us in contact with the needy whom we then bring back to God in prayer."
An appendix to the resource gives a brief summary of such topics as Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, the Season of Lent, the Penitential Days (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Fridays during Lent, and Fridays throughout the year), and various Forms and Expressions of Penance.
Commenting on the resource, Ms. Siobhan Marie Verbeek, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, observed that "In his 2001 Lenten message, Pope John Paul II reminds us that Lent ‘represents for believers the opportune occasion for a profound re-examination of life.' And, he asks further, ‘How is one to accept the invitation to conversion that Jesus addresses to us also in this Lenten season? How can a serious change in life come to be realized?' The Committee on Pastoral Practices is hopeful that the newly released resource will be a welcome assistance to all Catholics as together we respond individually and as a faith community to the call of our Lord to discipleship. The resource's renewed vision for cultivating the penitential practices in one's daily life is a ready guidepost not only for our Lenten preparations, but for every season of the year."
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