Lenten Series. I am very much looking forward to giving my
series beginning this Thursday evening at 7pm (a different
time than in the past). My topic will be “The Mass and the
Eucharist,” and this week we will be looking at what Scripture
and the Early Fathers of the Church had to say about the
I really do hope that you will join us, especially if you
don’t usually attend these kinds of things. This year we’ve
added on-site babysitting so some of our younger married
couples can come. It would be good to come to all the talks,
but if you miss one or even most of them you can still get a lot
out of coming to the ones you can.
Acts of Penance. During Lent, Holy Mother Church calls on
all who are able to perform acts of penance. I hope you’ve
already picked out your penances for Lent, and that you don’t
wait until Holy Week to put them into action.
The three classic categories of penance are 1) prayer,
2) almsgiving (acts or gifts of charity), and 3) fasting
(sacrifice: “giving up” something). I recommend you choose
to do penances from all three of these categories—maybe a
very small penance from two of them, and a larger “main”
penance from the third. Maybe you could resolve to add one
extra short prayer to your daily routine, maybe a Hail Mary,
and to set aside one dollar every day to give to the poor box,
and then do a larger penance of some sacrifice, like giving up
your favorite beverage or food all during Lent.
Also, remember to pick penances that you are able to
accomplish—don’t be overly ambitious and try to carry a
burden that is way to heavy for you. Penances should
challenge us, but not overwhelm us. What often happens is we
choose a penance that is too difficult for us in our present state
in life, and then when we fail to keep it we get discouraged
and give up, and Lent is lost. So pick penances that are
Also, penances should be things that you can easily
see that you are keeping. For example, if you resolve to just be
“nice” to everyone, how do you evaluate your success in this?
Rather, perhaps chose to try to be kinder to everyone, but to
do so in a particular way to a particular person—e.g., to bring
your office mate a cup of coffee every morning. Or if you
resolve to “pray more,” resolve specifically to pray an extra
Hail Mary before bed, or an extra 5 minutes in the morning.
Also, try to choose penances that may address
particular moral weaknesses you may have. For example, if
you struggle with the sin of gluttony, a sacrifice related to
food is a good idea. Or if you struggle from pride, maybe you
could say the “Litany of Humility” every day, or to humble
yourself by trying to hold door open for others whenever you
have the chance.
Daily Mass. Speaking of the Mass and doing penance during
Lent, one of the best penances is to go to Mass at least once
during the week—or even daily. We might not think of Mass
as a “penance”, but it is, of course, the greatest prayer of the
Church and puts us at the foot of the Cross, uniting our
prayers to the great prayer of Jesus on the first Good Friday—
what could be a better penance, especially during Lent?
Going to Mass during the week, especially daily,
strengthens us with the grace of the Blessed Sacrament so that
we can draw closer to Christ. Moreover, it also can change our
whole perspective on daily life, reminding us in a dramatic way
that our faith isn’t just for Sundays, but for every day and every
moment of the week.
The Sacrament of Confession. Lent also involves a second
type of “penance”—that is, the Sacrament of Penance (also
called “Confession” or “Reconciliation”). Two years ago I
published a small pamphlet called “Making a Good
Confession: A Brief Examination of Conscience and Guide to
Going to Confession.” Copies of this purple pamphlet can be
found by all the doors of the church and near the confessionals.
I hope you will find it helpful in preparing for and making a
good confession. Note: I am currently working on a version of
this “Guide” for children between about 11 and 14 years old,
and hope to have it in the church in the coming days.
The following paragraphs are taken from the
beginning of the “purple pamphlet”:
How do we make a “good Confession”? We begin by
prayerfully, and with honesty and humility, looking at our lives
to recognize the sins we’ve committed since our last
Confession, i.e., we make “an examination of conscience.” In
particular, we need to look for mortal sins, i.e., sins that
involve all three of the following criteria: 1) grave matter, 2)
full knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and 3)
complete consent. If any one of these is lacking it is not a
“mortal sin,” but may be a “venial sin.”
“Grave matter” means the act involves some very
serious moral evil, found either in 1) the act itself or 2) the
intention behind the act. Grave matter can be difficult to
identify, but not always.
Note that some sinful acts are grave matter when they
involve circumstances that are serious or very important but
are not grave matter if they involve only small or trivial things.
These acts that can be either grave or not are said to “admit of
parvity” (smallness). Many of the sins listed below would
“admit of parvity,” unless the word “serious” accurately
describes them. For example, a lie is always a sin, but lying
under oath is grave matter while lying about whether you like
someone’s outfit is not grave matter.
Also, in Confession you must distinguish the “kind” of
mortal sin committed: be clear about what the sin was, but
avoid graphic or long explanations. So it is not enough to
merely say “I had bad thoughts” or “I acted inappropriately,”
rather one should more specific, e.g. “I had lustful thoughts,”
You must also give the number of times you committed
particular mortal sins. Sometimes this is very difficult or even
impossible to remember, in which case, try your best give the
priest some idea of the frequency or number; e.g., “at least
once a month for several years,” etc.
Besides mortal sins, we should also consider
confessing (but are not required to confess) vices (sinful
habits) or other venial sins that are particularly problematic.
Have a blessed Lent.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles