Preface III of Lent

For more information on the Preface in general, see The Eucharistic Prayer (2) and The Eucharistic Prayer (3)

During Lent the faithful abstain from eating meat (or some other food if the conference of bishops indicates it) on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays. Sometimes seafood or a vegetarian meal are not much of a penance, since the cultural diversity found in many countries provides a wealth of tasty meatless cuisine. We could just stick to the letter of the law, but it’s important to feel the “bite” of abstinence (pardon the pun).

The fruits of abstinence

We live in a world that constantly tries to convince us that we can have it all, usually so that we buy “it all” from them, and slowly deludes us into thinking we should have it all. It’s a not so subtle distortion of our dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and that distortion spreads to others, because we think we’re more entitled to what they have than they are, fostering resentment and recriminations.

Our Lord shows us something different. He had it all, yet set it aside for a time for our sake. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (see Philippians 2:5-8). He denied himself all to which he was legitimately entitled in Heaven, suffered, and died, because we needed him. Abstinence goes way beyond no meat on Fridays and maybe no candy during Lent. It means feeling the “bite” of our self-denial for a greater good.

“For you will that our self-denial should give you thanks, humble our sinful pride, contribute to the feeding of the poor, and so help us imitate you in your kindness.”

We could easily be abstinent and in a rotten, self-pitying mood, asking ourselves why we feel the need to suffer when others are obliviously striving to “have it all” and seemingly happy. If we press our noses enviously at the window of whatever venue in which they’re indulging themselves we’ll likely also observe over time that they are often ungrateful, selfish, and unkind. Abstinence is when we voluntarily renounce something, albeit briefly, to show our gratitude to God for all he has given us. When we realize we owe the Lord everything and deserve nothing it makes us humble and opens our eyes to the bigger picture: how much he loves us and loved us by abstaining from “it all” through his Incarnation and death for our salvation.

Abstinence not only enables you to count your blessings; it enables you to share them. If we choose not to have some things during Lent, it reminds us of those who simply don’t have those things at all. Our Lord abstained from “it all” because we were hopelessly lost without him. We can imitate that during Lent through our charity toward others. Firstly, by not grumbling and complaining when we feel the “bite” of our abstinence. Secondly, by dedicating that time, talent, or treasure our abstinence has freed up during Lent for the benefit of others. If we do, we’ll truly see the fruits of abstinence.

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