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Season of Lent

Ash Wednesday falls on 1st March this year and marks the beginning of Lent. Please find below the schedule of Masses & Service during Lent at St Francis Xavier's Church. Make Lent a truly holy time for yourself and your family. Please find time to come to the Church for the different liturgies or simply to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.


Wednesday of this week is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The English word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon Lencten, meaning ‘spring’. The name in other languages, for example, Italian Quaresima, or Spanish Quaresma, or French Carême, comes from the Latin Quadragesima, meaning ‘a period of forty days’. In the Christian tradition, forty days refers to a time of intense prayer and preparation; it is a reminder of the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness and of Christ’s forty-day fast in preparation for his public ministry.

The development of Lent as a period of preparation for Easter began in the Third century with a preparatory fast before the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The length of this fast varied from place to place, but by the end of the Fourth century it was a definite period of forty days to be undertaken especially for those who were to be baptised at Easter. However with the growing number of infant baptisms, and the separation of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) which no longer took place all at once, the baptismal character of Lent diminished, and was replaced with a more penitential emphasis.

From around the Sixth century the faithful began to sprinkle ashes on their foreheads at the beginning of the Lent, and the start of Lent was moved from a Sunday to the preceding Wednesday, so that there would be exactly forty days of fasting – reckoning Holy Saturday to be the last day of Lent. The Sundays of Lent did not count!

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s reinstated the double focus of the Season: baptism and penance. It also clearly defined the duration of Lent: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the morning of Holy Thursday. So Lent has six Sundays, ‘Palm Sunday’ being the sixth.

Ash Wednesday – a day of Fasting and Abstinence

Please remember that Ash Wednesday is a day of Fast and Abstinence, that is to say: all persons who are between 14 and 60 are bound to abstain from eating meat. The law of fasting requires a Catholic between 18 and 60 to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals (collations) which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity.

Ash Wednesday from the Eternal City

For many centuries it was the custom to visit the most historical churches of Rome, known as the ‘Stational Churches’, one each day during the Season of Lent. Reintroduced in the early 1970s by the staff and students of the North American College in Rome, each day around 300 English speaking pilgrims gather for Mass at 7am in the designated Church. On Ash Wednesday there two stational churches, connected by a Penitential Procession: the Benedictine Church of Sant’Anselmo and the Dominican Church of Santa Sabina both on the Aventine Hill. At 3.30pm on EWTN (sky channel 589 or online you will be able to see the Penitential Procession and followed by the Papal Mass. If you want to see and read a little about each day’s stational church, then visit the North American College website:

Father McGachey

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