When you think of Lent, what comes to mind?
I think it is safe to say many of us immediately think of giving up something. And that “something” usually involves food, which is in keeping with the emphasis on fasting during the Lenten season. But we all know fasting is just one of three acts we are called to focus on during Lent. “In the Lenten period,” said Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his 2008 Lenten message, “the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.”
Each of these involve some sort of giving. In fasting, we give up certain foods. In almsgiving, we give money and aid to those who are in need. But what about prayer? What are we giving when we pray?
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, exhorted his readers: “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:17-18; cf. Eph 5:20). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “‘we have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing.’ This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love” (No. 2742). Lent is a journey in love, and prayer is an essential part of both that journey and that growth in love.
The journey of Lent is a pilgrimage toward the profound and joyful mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That journey begins in the wilderness. As the catechism says, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (No. 540). As Pope Benedict stated in his first Lenten message in 2006: “Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage toward 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 toward the intense joy of Easter.”
With this in mind, what follows is a Scripture-focused guide to praying during Lent. It is meant for personal reflection and prayer, and to accompany the public, communal and liturgical prayers of the Church, all of which are ultimately focused upon and find their deepest meaning in the Eucharist: “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC, No. 1324). Key themes and ideas from each week of Lent are given, drawn from the Mass readings, and a particular focus is given to the “Our Father,” for it “‘is truly the summary of the whole gospel,’ the ‘most perfect of prayers.’ It is at the center of the Scriptures” (CCC, No. 2774). In addition, each section contains a prayer selected from Church tradition that can be prayed during that specific week.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.
This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor.