Worship: Disciplines of Lent explained

Ash Wednesday & the Disciplines of Lent


Fr. Matthew Olver

The Season of Lent, given to us for the preparation of our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, is a marvelous opportunity to take the next step forward in your spiritual life. The Book of Common Prayer designates the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week (except March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation), along with all Fridays of the year as days of “special devotion” with “special acts of discipline and self-denial,” which would normally include fasting (p. 17).

Some form of fasting is one of the central ways that Christians have done this. Jesus began his ministry by fasting (Mat. 4:1-11) and teaches about it in the Sermon on the Mount, just after discussing repentance and forgiveness, saying, “When you fast…” (Mat. 6:16).

Fasting can be either a whole or partial abstinence from food and its purpose as a Christian discipline is always spiritual: to learn the most difficult spiritual truth, the “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mat. 4:4).

What is most helpful is to think first about your Lenten fast, and second about what discipline you might take on. Here are some of the traditional methods of fasting:

a) forgoing meat during the weekdays of Lent;
b) fasting from one or two meals a day (Wednesdays & Friday are the traditional days);
c) considering what practices serve as a spiritual or emotional “crutch” in your life (extended periods of TV, deserts, internet usage) and “fasting” from the (with the intention of continuing the fast even after Lent);
d) begin to fast before receiving Communion on Sundays as a way to spiritually prepare, etc.

When looking to take on a discipline, take an inventory of your spiritual life and prayerfully ask what the next small step might be:

a) begin praying Morning or Evening Prayer each day (see How-to guides in the tract racks);
b) pray Compline (BCP p. 147) together as a family or couple at night;
c) make an examination of conscience at the end of each day and keep track in preparation for Confession;
d) give part of the money you would spend on entertainment to the Church or the poor.

Any of the clergy would be pleased to provide further direction.

Ash Wednesday is one of the two days of the Church’s year — the other being Good Friday — when all Christians who are physically able to do so are urged to engage in a total fast: abstaining from all food (solid or liquid, but not from water) during the day, eating only a simple, meatless meal sometime late in the day (after receiving Holy Communion, if possible).

Lenten Worship

The Church’s worship during the season of Lent is simpler and more austere. Alleluia is not said and the Gloria in excelsis is not sung. There are no flowers at the altar. The color purple is used, which is both a sign of penitence and an expression of hope. All of these measures are meant to help us focus more intently on the spiritual disciplines to which the Church calls us in Lent: self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditation on God’s holy Word.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession

One of the gifts of our spiritual tradition in the practice of sacramental confession (see James 5:12), where one makes a concerted effort to examine one’s life honestly and then names those sins in the presence of a priest for the purpose of receiving counsel and direction, and absolution (the authority given by Jesus to declare God’s absolute forgiveness; see John 20:23).

Anglicans have always understood confession as a gift to be received and not something to be required. There is tremendous freedom and healing that comes when we bring our sins into the Light (see I Peter 2:9) and name them in the presence of a Christian minister. Priests will be available this Lent to hear confessions by appointment, as well as Monday–Wednesday in Holy Week, from 5-5:45 (come to the Good Shepherd Altar in the main church).

The liturgy for Confession can be found on page 447-48 in The Book of Common Prayer. Guides to help in preparing for Confession can be found on the website.

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