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Lent in the Maronite Church begins on Cana Sunday or Entrance into the Great Lent. Ashes are given on Monday to begin the Great Lent that ends on Easter Sunday.

The Great Lent recalls the gestures of mercy of the Savior toward His people. This fifty-day period invites the believer to meditate on the sinful human condition, and the meaning of the salvific sufferings and death of Christ. These fifty days reflect the penitential tone and monastic spirit of the Maronite Church.

The seven Lenten weeks are divided into three cycles. The first cycle includes the Sundays that focus on the cure of the Leper (Mk 1:35-45), the cure of the Haemorrhaging Woman (Lk 8:40-56) and the Parable of the Lost Son (Lk 15:11-32). The second cycle, given the title of miracles, incorporates the Sunday Gospels of the cure of the Paralytic (Mk 2:1-12) and the cure of the Blind (Mk 10:46-52). The third weekday cycle is referred to as Hosanna week and includes Palm Sunday and Passion Week (Jn 12:12-22).

Lent is achieved not so much by way of fasting and abstinence, but rather by a transformation in attitude, about caring for the other, building up society and becoming an ambassador of good will. In the Maronite Lectionary, the Sunday Gospel passages throughout Lent focus on the healing and forgiving powers of Jesus, a reminder that Lent is a time to transform one’s life, just as the water was changed to wine in the Sunday Gospel that marks the entry into the Lenten Season.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. Holy Week provides liturgical experiences of sublime music and ritual. In particular on Good Friday a large model of the crucified Jesus is laid to rest in what is a coffin like wooden box and congregational members are invited to lay their gathered flowers there. The coffin is then carried outside on the shoulders of four strong men and as the congregation leave the service they walk under the coffin as a sign of blessing. At the close of the service, the coffin with the crucified figure, is placed in a make shift cave (tomb). This is then closed off, symbolizing the burial of Jesus.

At the Easter midnight Mass, the empty coffin is brought out and people are invited to take a flower that had been previously placed there. This represents the symbol of new life. In concluding the Maronite celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, the faithful greet one another with the refrain, ‘Christ is risen! Truly he is Risen!’

 

Lenten guidelines for the Maronites:

  • All Maronites over the age of 14, who are physically capable, are to abstain from meat on Ash Monday and all Fridays of Lent.
  • Ash Monday and the Great Friday of the Crucifixion are also days of fasting. Fasting in the Maronite Church involves eating and drinking nothing at all (except water and medicine) from midnight until noon. The rest of the day normal meals can be taken, but without meat. All Maronites who are physically capable are to fast on these two days.
  • As a reminder, each Sunday during lent is a celebration of the Resurrection and isn’t therefore Lent, so any things you have give up for Lent are properly set aside on Sundays.

 

To say it another way:

Ash Monday – fast until noon, then no meat

All Fridays during Lent – abstain from meat, no fasting required

Good Friday – fast until noon, then no meat

Abstinence means no eating of meat. Fasting means no food or beverage (except for water) between 12 Midnight to 12 Noon. Those over 60, and those with any medical condition or illness where fasting is deleterious are dispensed from this obligation, as are those who are required to perform strenuous labor.

 

But there is more than fasting! Great Lent is a time of prayer, penance, and change of heart; turning from sin and facing the Lord. Fasting and abstinence are part of the larger program we are encouraged to engage in during Lent. All parishioners are encouraged to seek Sacrament of Reconciliation at some point before Easter Sunday. You are encouraged to give to those less fortunate, either through the second collection for Bishop’s charity or to individuals or organizations.

We should focus on concrete acts of mercy during this Season of Lent.  Corporal acts of mercy can be visiting relatives at nursing homes, making bag of personal care items to give to the homeless when they ask us for money at roadside crossings, or giving money to help organizations who help the neediest in our society.

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