By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are “sacramental actions” during Lent, but these external practices should be mirrored internally and lead to transformation said Vicar General, Cathedral Administrator Fr Martin Sirju on Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
A common definition of a sacrament is “an outward sign of inward grace” he explained, and they are always external signs that have internal meanings. For example, in Baptism, the external sign is washing, the internal sign is the person’s soul being cleansed and redeemed. Water is a symbol of cleansing and regeneration.
The actions of Lent are not sacraments in the strictest sense like Baptism and Confirmation; they carry signs and symbolism. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (charity) are supposed to be part of general spiritual practices. However, they intensify during Lent.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls attention to the outward signs and interior signs. Fr Sirju told the congregation, “Just as there is an external prayer there must be an internal prayer….”
He added: “The Lenten season is a time to return as the First Reading tells us, the prophet Joel ‘return to the Lord’ and to return to the Lord is also to return to our true selves. So often, we do what people tell us to do; so often, we shape ourselves according to what our peers think of us, for if not our peers, what the world says the different currents and fads. The Lenten season is a time to return to the centre, to self and allowing oneself to be shaped by the grace of Christ.”
Fr Sirju said this can lead to a deepening of the disciplines which should always be done, and change will happen. He asked Catholics to look upon the spirituality which the Church asks to be practised during Lent as transformative not routine.
As a guide to internal fasting, he gave a list of beneficial practices: fast from hurting words and say kind words; fast from sadness and return to gratitude; fast from anger and return to patience; fast from pessimism and return to hope; fast from worries and trust in God; fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity; fast from pressures and be prayerful; fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy; fast from selfishness and be compassionate to one another; fast from grudges and be reconciled; fast from words and be silent so you may listen.
As done last year with the implementation of Archdiocesan safety protocols for the observance of Lent, the ashes were distributed using a cotton swab.
Pope Francis has asked Catholics to pray and fast on Ash Wednesday for peace in Ukraine.