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What the Holy Fathers Say about Lent

Why should we give things up during Lent? How do penitence and fasting draw us closer to God? What is the Christian approach to the practice of charity?

As we prepare our hearts to honor Christ’s death and resurrection, we invite you to reflect on the Holy Fathers’ wise answers to these questions and more regarding the observance of Lent. May these quotes from the Holy Fathers deepen your understanding and practice of Lent, drawing you into greater communion with our Savior.

Stained glass Jesus and Moses
Stained glass in the Great Upper Church

Lent Is for Giving

“The season of Lent, in addition to prayer, penance and fasting, invites us to intensify those acts of concrete charity which biblical language often describes by the term ‘almsgiving.’

In this regard, Jesus warns us about the risk of wanting to be admired: charity is not genuine if it seeks human praise (cf. Mt 6:2-3). On the other hand, he urges his disciples: ‘Let them see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 5:16). Our actions are ‘beautiful’ when they reflect the light of God, so it is therefore right that the merit and praise for this light go to him.”
— Pope John Paul II’s message on February 28, 1999

Lent Draws Us Near to God

“Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter. Even in the ‘valley of darkness’ of which the Psalmist speaks (Ps 23:4), while the tempter prompts us to despair or to place a vain hope in the work of our own hands, God is there to guard us and sustain us. Yes, even today the Lord hears the cry of the multitudes longing for joy, peace, and love.”
– Pope Benedict XVI’s message for Lent 2006

Lent Helps Us to Repent

“During these weeks of Lent, let us make space for the prayer of silent adoration, in which we experience the presence of the Lord, like Moses, like Elijah, like Mary, like Jesus. Have we noticed that we have lost the sense of worship? Let us return to worship. Let us lend the ear of our hearts to the One who, in silence, wants to say to us: ‘I am your God – the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care…’” — Pope Francis’s message on February 14, 2024

Lent Reminds Us of Our Mortality

Expulsion from the Garden mosaic West Apse
Expulsion from the Garden mosaic West Apse

“The favorable moment of grace in Lent also reveals its spiritual significance to us in the ancient formula: ‘Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return’ which the priest says as he places a little ash on our foreheads. Thus we are referred back to the dawn of human history when the Lord told Adam, after the original sin: ‘In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3: 19). Here, the word of God reminds us of our frailty, indeed of our death, which is the extreme form. Before the innate fear of the end and even sooner in the context of a culture which in so many ways tends to censure the reality and the human experience of death, the Lenten Liturgy, on the one hand, reminds us of death, inviting us to realism and wisdom; but, on the other, it impels us above all to understand and live the unexpected newness that the Christian faith releases from the reality of death itself.”
— Pope Benedict XVI’s message on February 17, 2010

redemption dome
The Redemption Dome in the Basilica

Lent Prepares Us for Heaven

“The Lord will prepare a banquet for all peoples. These words which inspire the present Lenten Message lead us first to reflect upon the gracious providence of the Heavenly Father towards all men and women. We see this providence in the very act of creation, when God ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Gen 1:31). It is then confirmed in the privileged relationship with the people of Israel, whom God chooses as his own people to begin the work of salvation. Finally, in Jesus Christ this gracious providence comes to its fullness: in him, the blessing of Abraham is shared with all peoples and through faith we receive the promise of the Spirit (cf. Gal 3:14).

Lent is the favorable time to offer to the Lord sincere thanks for the wonders he has done for humanity in every age, and especially in the Redemption when he did not spare his own Son (cf. Rom 8:32).” — Pope John Paul II’s message for Lent 1999

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