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Why Do We Pray, Fast, and Give Alms During Lent?

February 21, 2024 No Comments

As we enter the Lenten season, Catholics are asked to more intentionally take up the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as a way to experience a further conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. These three pillars of Lent are solidly rooted in Scripture, encouraging us to deepen our reliance on the Lord and grow in relationship with Him, so we may more fully rejoice in His resurrection. The proclamation of Matthew’s Gospel at the liturgy on Ash Wednesday helps properly orient our efforts toward that interior transformation rather than mere external demonstrations of piety.


Many of us who come from backgrounds of faith, whether Christian or otherwise, already know the importance of prayer. The season of Lent provides a fresh opportunity to examine not only our personal prayer lives, but how we can better unite our prayers with the prayers of the entire Church as we journey toward Easter together. As Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Mt 6:5–6)


Fasting is clearly both modeled and encouraged by Jesus during his earthly ministry. But depending upon how we were formed in faith, the practice of fasting may be new to some of us. Our fasting not only assists us in detaching ourselves from our worldly affections, but also helps us to identify more closely with Christ, who, before entering into his public ministry, went into the desert to fast and pray.

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Mt. 6:17–18)


Lent is an opportunity to not only pray and fast, but to shift our attention from ourselves to those in need, with whom Jesus spent so much of his earthly ministry. We pray to draw closer to him; we fast to deny ourselves of our selfish and prideful impulses; and we give to share the fruit of that prayer and fasting with those who need it most. As Our Lord concludes in his discussion of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in the Sermon on the Mount:

Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them… But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Mt 6:1, 3–4)

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