Bishop O'Connell

The season of Lent has arrived, and with it the importance of prayer and penance become a special focus of our attention once again as we “journey to Jerusalem” with our Lord Jesus Christ. 

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Ash Wednesday with the Bishop Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will lead a videotaped liturgical service and deliver a homily for Ash Wednesday Feb. 17. The video can be viewed beginning at 6 a.m. on Ash Wednesday at youtube.com/trentondiocese.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis, in his “2021 Lenten Message,” asks us to spend these 40 penitential days of Lent “renewing our faith, hope and love.”  Such Lenten renewal invites us to “fasting, prayer and almsgiving,” the traditional Lenten paths to conversion.  I recommend that all Catholics take a few moments to read and reflect upon the Holy Father’s beautiful Lenten Message this year.

2021 Lenten regulations

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

During the days and weeks of penance that lie ahead — from Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021 until Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021 — the Catholic Church throughout the world commemorates the penitential season of Lent ending with the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week. The model Jesus gave us for “these forty days” was his own experience in the desert and the temptations that followed him there where he encountered Satan face to face.  And yet, Jesus, there in the desert — alone, fasting and in intense prayer — beat back the devil and triumphed over temptation, as strong and as unrelenting as it was throughout those forty days.

We enter the desert of Lent like Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, to face our devils, our temptations head on.  But we are not alone.  The Lord Jesus Christ is with us.  And so, too, is the Church, the entire community of faith observing Lent.  Here is what the Catholic Church in the United States requires of us as baptized Catholics:

During the days and weeks of penance that lie ahead — from Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021 until Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021  —  the Catholic Church throughout the world commemorates the penitential season of Lent ending with the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week. The model Jesus gave us for “these forty days” was his own experience in the desert and the temptations that followed him there where he encountered Satan face to face.  And yet, Jesus, there in the desert — alone, fasting and in intense prayer — beat back the devil and triumphed over temptation, as strong and as unrelenting as it was throughout those forty days.

We enter the desert of Lent like Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, to face our devils, our temptations head on.  But we are not alone.  The Lord Jesus Christ is with us.  And so, too, is the Church, the entire community of faith observing Lent.  Here is what the Catholic Church in the United States requires of us as baptized Catholics:

1. The days of FAST (only one full meal) and ABSTINENCE (no meat) are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  No dispensations are granted on these solemn days except for reason of sickness or those provided in canon law below.  The pastor of a parish has the authority to give a dispensation to individual parishioners in his parish.  The Bishop alone has the authority to dispense groups of Catholics but only for a serious reason.

2. Those who are automatically dispensed from fast and abstinence regulations outside the age limits noted below include: the physically or mentally ill, especially individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes.  Also included in the dispensation are women who are pregnant or nursing.  In all cases, common sense should prevail and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

Those between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to FAST (only one full meal) as above.  From the age of 14, people are also obliged to ABSTAIN (no meat: this obligation prohibits the eating of meat, but not eggs, milk products or condiments of any kind, even though made from animal fat).

The obligation to observe the laws of fast and abstinence is a serious one for Catholics.  Failure to observe one penitential day in itself is not considered a serious sin.  It is the intentional failure to observe any penitential days at all, or a substantial number of penitential days, that must be considered a serious matter.

The obligation, the privilege really, of receiving the Eucharist at least once a year — often called “Easter duty” — for those in the state of grace should still be fulfilled during the period from the First Sunday of Lent, April 20-21, 2021 to Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021. However, the Church’s law does permit this precept to be fulfilled at another time during the year when there is a just cause.

I want to encourage all Catholics, especially those conscious of serious sin, to go to confession and to make use of the sacrifices and traditions that have always been part of our Lenten practices in the Church.

We do, indeed, fast and pray with the Lord Jesus and with our fellow Catholics.  May this Lent be a time of penance leading to grace and joy for us all at Easter.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.; Bishop of Trenton

Stream the Stations with Bishop O’Connell this Lent Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will lead a special, multimedia experience of the Way of the Cross, which will be available for streaming on the Diocese of Trenton’s YouTube channel beginning Friday, Feb. 19.  The presentation will feature the watercolor portrayal of the 14 stations by popular 19th century French painter James Tissot, one of Bishop O’Connell’s favorite artists.  After experiencing a spiritual vision while visiting the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, Tissot dedicated his artistry to portraying the life of Christ in 350 watercolors based upon the Gospels – 14 of which depict the Stations of the Cross.  The entire collection was purchased by and remains on display with the Brooklyn Museum of Art. 

Bishop O’Connell observed that the Stations’ portrayal has been “selected to help us prayerfully envision the Passion and Death of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Leading prayers first composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Bishop invites the faithful to join him in commemorating the Way of the Cross this Lent.  To stream the Stations, visit youtube.com/trentondiocese.