Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a 40-day period of repentance and renewal leading up to Easter Sunday. During this time, we examine our hearts and strive to imitate the way of Christ through acts of sacrifice and repentance. Today we invite you to dig deeper into the significance of testing and preparation in Scripture as you observe Lent.
The Harmony of the Old and New Testaments in Lent
As Monsignor Rossi has noted, Lent involves a period of “testing, preparation, and purification,” after the fashion of other significant periods in the Bible marked by the number 40. Consider the Israelites, who had to wander in the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land. Moses stayed on Mount Sinai and fasted for 40 days when he received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Similarly, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, where he was tested by Satan. Jesus, however, stood firm against Satan’s temptations, and responded with Scripture. He referenced the Ten Commandments at one point, further demonstrating a continuity with Moses’ time on Mount Sinai:
Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written:
‘You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:1-8
The Practices of Lent
Christ’s 40 days in the desert inspire us to reflect upon our living and strive to grow closer to him. In undertaking this interior renewal, we must take concrete steps towards the purification of our hearts, such as fasting. As John Paul II noted:
May this day of prayer and fasting for peace with which we begin Lent be translated into concrete acts of reconciliation. From the family circle to the international realm, may each person feel and be co-responsible for building peace. Then the God of peace who examines the intentions of hearts and calls his children to be peacemakers (cf. Mt 5,9) will not fail to reward us (cf. Mt 6, 4.6.18).
The continuity between the Old Testament and the symbolism of Lent also translates to the practices which we undertake during this time. In the Old Testament, God’s people followed a tradition of covering themselves in ashes during times of mourning, contrition, and penance. On Ash Wednesday, the faithful cover their foreheads with a cross of ashes as a reminder of our contrite hearts, and the penance which we undertake during Lent.
Prayer for Renewal
As we begin the season of Lent, let us pray that God restores us, cleansing and renewing our hearts:
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit…
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.
–Psalm 51: 11-14, 19
During this season, we invite you to join us for Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday, February 26.