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Lent: 40 days of prayer, fasting, almsgiving to 'jump-start' one's faith


  • A child receives ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass March 1 in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
  • A woman receives ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral in Newark, N.J., March 1. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
  • Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., greets people after celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral in Newark March 1. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
  • A woman prays under an image of Mary during Ash Wednesday Mass March 1 in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
  • Jerrod Koenen holds his 4-month-old son, Edison, as he receives ashes on his forehead from Deacon Pat Knier at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Kiel, Wis., on Ash Wednesday, March 1. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, the Compass)
  • Father Rick Kotrba, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kan., distributes ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass March 1. (CNS photo/Christopher M. Riggs, Catholic Advance)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, is often viewed as a time to give up something and go without meat on Fridays.

But a glance at almost any Catholic parish bulletin during Lent will reveal that a lot is more going on during this time with increased opportunities for prayer, confession, Stations of the Cross or retreats. And there also are plenty of online tools to help people grow in their faith: links to reading materials, suggested prayers and activities, charities to donate to and simple meals to prepare.

For Catholic adults, it's not the Lent of their childhood, with all the emphasis only on giving up soda or dessert, said Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

As he sees it, "the challenge is to move from the Lenten discipline appropriate for children to the Lenten discipline that's appropriate for adults."

The idea of putting less emphasis on what you're giving up and more on the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, he said, "puts us into preparation for the paschal mystery, deepening our connection to God and our brothers and sisters."

That's what people love about Lent, he added, noting that many Christians find the season gives them a "jump- start" to their faith.

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