From the Most Reverend Geoffrey Jarrett, Bishop of Lismore:
Dear brother priests, religious brothers and sisters, and all the faithful of the Diocese:
Prayer – our window open to God.
Last year in this Lenten Letter I directed our attention forward to the celebration of the Sacred Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The care which was taken last year, and will be taken this year and into the future, in the pastoral and liturgical preparation for these days, and our faithfulness to the Church’s directives in their celebration, will surely continue to be a powerful source of grace for every parish community.
This year I wish to write about the Lenten call to prayer. Prayer must be at the heart of a Christian life deserving of the name. Prayer is our window open to God. This spiritual season is above all a time of prayer and repentance and drawing more closely to the One who loves us and calls us to the joy of His friendship. In the gospel we observe how it was Our Lord’s own example of prayer to the Father which prompted His disciples to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1). He then gave them a form of words which has become the model of Christian prayer ever since. In childhood it was the first prayer most of us ever learned; it is for millions a daily prayer, and for many approaching death their last. The ‘Our Father’, so simple and yet so profound, shines at the heart of a vast and wonderful tradition of memorised forms of words – ‘vocal prayer’ – high among the treasures of the Church in both East and West.
The words of our learned prayers and the inspired Word of the sacred Scriptures from which they are often derived, form a sort of ‘runway’ which enables us to get aloft into higher ways of prayer, to the prayer of contemplation which takes us beyond words, the prayer un which we can simply ‘be’ with God. That is why it is a vital part of our catechesis of the young to teach them the basic prayers in which we can first lift our hearts to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints and Angels, together with the traditional Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Contrition, and the Morning Offering.
It is sad to hear teachers remarking that there are not a few children starting off their education in Catholic schools these days whom they discover do not know the ‘Our Father’, and for whom prayer is an unknown experience. From the days when our schools were the extension of the faith of the family and parish, they must now increasingly take up the challenge of a new evangelisation, to become vehicles of the faith and the religious life of the parish to the family. Catechetical books such as To Know, Worship and Love, the official religious education texts prescribed throughout all levels in the schools of our Diocese, and other new publications for school and family, feature as well good collections of vocal prayers to assist this necessary work of handing on the tradition of basic Catholic prayer forms to the minds and practice of our children.
Lent is a good time for families to discover the blessings that come from praying together at home each day. Children love to pray when they are given example and encouragement, and it is up to parents to give the lead. When we pray together, or when we withdraw alone to the secret place Our Lord speaks about in the Ash Wednesday gospel, we are set to grow in that relationship which only prayer can make possible: prayer is always the meeting place of lovers, where in seeking God we discover that He has already found us. It is a time of holy conversation when confidences are exchanged. We open up our troubles and difficulties, our hopes and joys; we surrender our sins and wrongdoings and humbly ask for mercy and forgiveness. It is a time to receive renewed strength to bear the burden of life’s cares, and find assurance, in St Paul’s words, ‘that the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18). It is our prayer that enables us to catch a glimpse of eternity in time, to build up our dwelling-place in Heaven.
We can also discover more deeply in Lent how our personal daily prayer leads us to take our part in the liturgy and the sacramental life with greater fruitfulness, and how in its turn this participation can enrich our personal prayer. Everything about the Liturgy is about relationship, with God and with the community that worships. This then flows over to nourish our personal prayer and sacramental union with Christ. This is why during Lent we can feel specially impelled to reconciliation by personal confession in the Sacrament of Penance, and drawn to more frequent participation in the Mass when its wonder lights up with richer meaning as the sacrifice of Christ which makes our own self-offering possible.
Our Holy Father, in his Message to the entire Church this Lent, invites us all to stand by Christ Crucified, in the company of Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple, directing our prayerful gaze at ‘Him whom they have pierced’. Thus, says Pope Benedict, “may Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God’s love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must “regive” to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need.”
I pray that every member of our Diocese, our priests and all our brothers and sisters in consecrated Religious Life, our seminarians, our families and young people, our parents and teachers will benefit deeply from the rich graces offered during these Forty Days, especially in opening wider our window to God, our life of prayer. As I send you my love and blessing, please pray for me.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
The Most Revd Geoffrey H. Jarrett DD,
Bishop of Lismore.
Lenten Penance 2007
Christian practice from the beginning, founded on the word and example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, passed on to the present, and reaffirmed by the Church’s canon law, calls us to our obligation to do penance. The special times of penance are all Friday’s throughout the year, and the season of Lent.
We recall that St John the Baptist prepared for the coming of the Lord by “preaching a baptism of repentance.” Christ began his ministry on earth with the call to repent: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15).
Repentance means the rejection of sin. It implies conversion to, and reconciliation with God.
Penance is the concrete expression of repentance. It takes the forms of prayer, self-denial, and works of charity. Each of these identifies us more closely with Jesus who alone can save us. By penance we make satisfaction for our sins, and take real steps in the renewal of our lives. Penance is the proof of our repentance.
Repentance and conversion are central, ongoing features of Christian living. Penance has to be a constant, even daily, practice in our lives. In setting special times of penance, the Church encourages and promotes in all her members the habit of penance.
Furthermore, observance of these special times together by all Catholics throughout the universal Church recognises the wider, social dimension of the damage done by personal sin. The sin of the individual member always in some measure infects the whole body. Therefore during Lent and on the Fridays of the year we do penance, in union with our Crucified Lord, not only on our own account, but also in the name of the Church and of the world.
We must take very seriously our penitential obligations and be sure to carry them out. The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has not restricted our penance to fast and abstinence in all cases – it leaves room also for responsible individual choice, so that the form of penance embraced will be appropriate for our circumstances and promote a stronger Christian spiritual life.
The Days of Penance
Abstinence from meat, and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
All who have completed their eighteenth year and have not yet begun their sixtieth year are bound to fast.
All who have completed their fourteenth year are bound to abstain.
Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday (21st Febuary) to the mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive (5th April).
The Easter Fast is observed on Good Friday and if possible on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil.
On all Fridays of the year the law of the common practice of penance is fulfilled by performing any one of the following:
- Prayer – for example, attending an additional Mass; a time of Scripture study and prayer; making the Stations of the Cross; praying the Rosary.
- Self-denial – for example, abstinence from meat; not eating sweets or dessert; giving up entertainment; limiting forms of food and drink and luxuries so as to give to the poor and those in need.
- Deeds of charity – for example, setting aside special time and effort to help someone who is poor, sick, elderly, lonely or overburdened.
Each of the faithful is obliged to receive Holy Communion at least once a year. This is to be done between Ash Wednesday (21st February) and Trinity Sunday (3rd June) unless for a good reason it is done at another time during the year.
All the faithful are obliged to confess their grave sins at least once a year, to a priest, to receive individual sacramental absolution.
The Most Revd Geoffrey H. Jarrett DD
Bishop of Lismore.
St Carthage’s Cathedral, Ash Wednesday, 2007.