Since the earliest times of the Church, members prepared for Easter with some form of sacrifice or devotion. Traditions varied greatly, however, by 461, Pope St. Leo preached prayer and fasting during the 40-day period of Lent.
The purpose of Lenten observances is the renewal of our baptism. Fasting and sacrifice assist us with our conversion as we recall the waters in which we were baptized into a life in Christ. Throughout Lent, we acknowledge our sins, repent, and ready ourselves to renew our baptismal commitment to the Lord on Easter.
The number 40 in regard to Lent is of spiritual significance. We find “40” in key passages of both Hebrew and Christian Testaments. Moses remained with the Lord for 40 days and nights without eating any food or drinking water in preparation to receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Elijah walked 40 days and nights to the mountain of the Lord (1Kings 19:8). Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights in the desert before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4:2).
During the 40 days of Lent, we are asked to devote ourselves to seeking the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture, donating money and goods to those in need, sacrificing and practicing self-control through fasting, and participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Ash Wednesday (February 14, 2018) and Good Friday (March 30, 2018) are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence. On these two days, members aged 18-59 of the Latin Catholic Church are permitted to eat one meatless full meal as well as two smaller, meatless ones that together are not equal to a full meal. Those 14 and older are also to abstain from eating meat on Fridays throughout Lent.
In addition, we traditionally offer a daily sacrifice or charitable deed. Some examples are giving up alcohol or chocolate, not posting any negativity on social media, serving in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, donating our afternoon coffee money to the poor, or dedicating a specific time to prayer.
In a letter, St Theodora advised Sister Maria (February 25, 1854) to only fast if she could do it without becoming too weak or ill to perform her duties. Her assistance was necessary for the good of her ministeries, and there are so many other ways in which to sacrifice.
Even during her lifetime, friends requested prayers from St Theodora. They believed in her devotion to God and her powerful prayers. Our prayers are powerful, as well.
My sacrifice this Lent is to pray for one person, in particular, every day, all day long. My prayer list is extensive with people in physical and emotional pain. Sending them love and prayers can ease their troubles. Spending time with God and holding a loved close to my heart will be beneficial for both of us.