Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin a new Lenten journey, a journey that extends over forty days and leads us towards the joy of Easter, to victory of Life over death. Following the ancient Roman tradition of Lenten stations, we are gathered for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The tradition says that the first statio took place in the Basilica of Saint Sabina on the Aventine Hill. Circumstances suggested we gather in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Tonight there are many of us gathered around the tomb of the Apostle Peter, to also ask him to pray for the path of the Church going forward at this particular moment in time, to renew our faith in the Supreme Pastor, Christ the Lord. For me it is also a good opportunity to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude the Petrine ministry, and I ask you for a special remembrance in your prayer.
When the Pope came into the Paul VI Hall he was greeted with lots of people which is typical, but there seemed to be more than c. 8000 people in attendance. The outpouring of affection was evident. Before the weekly teaching, he said,
Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided. Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.
I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfill the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.
I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!
The catechesis the Pope offers us today…
Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting (required for those between the ages of 18-59; encouraged for all others) and a day of abstinence from meat (for all aged 14 and up) it is NOT a holy day of obligation. There is no obligation to receive ashes.
What does fasting mean?
Fasting means partaking of only one full meal for the day. Two smaller meals may substitute in order not to weaken. No eating between meals.
What does abstinence mean?
The practice of abstinence is defined as not eating red meat; eggs and milk products are acceptable.
Blessed John Paul II reminded us that “While preserving their value, external penitential practices are never an end in themselves, but an aid to inner penitence, which consists of freeing the heart from the grip of sin with the help of grace, to direct it toward the love of God and our brothers and sisters.“
Lenten practices: confession of sins, praying the Stations of the Cross, giving alms, doing an act of charity. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving form one unit, to separate them makes the whole thing incoherent. Many people attend Mass more often than once a week.
“For the sake of the joy which lay before him he endured the cross, heedless of its shame” (Hebrews 12-2).