This year, the season of Lent begins Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18. Last month, in preparation for this time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Father Czeslaw M. Krysa, SLD, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, spoke in detail about what laypeople should do, and what the diocese will do, for Lent.
Father Krysa said Scripture reading is the single most important thing that Catholics should do during the Lenten season, particularly reading the prophets and the Psalms. Additionally, since Catholics are called to fast during this time, he suggested some different ways they might experience this.
"First of all, in the Psalms, you have all of the emotions that were every experienced by humanity. The difference is that all of these particular emotions are directed toward God. Anger, even, is directed toward God, and disappointment, sorrow, hurt and pain," he said. "When we keep that or talk amongst ourselves, they kind of stay with us. If you direct it to God, then it's given to God to transform."
In terms of fasting, Father Krysa suggested a practice called "gathering the fruits of the fast." During this, each person takes a favorite coffee cup. Whenever each person gives something up during Lent, he or she places the money they would have otherwise spent on that item into the cup.
"Prayer is the fuel of fasting. Fasting by itself, eating a smaller amount of food, needs the assistance of prayer," Father Krysa said. "In other words, it gives me the strength to sustain the fact that I'm not eating as much as I would want to. The rule of Lent - prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the old traditional rule, comes in here. Scriptural prayer, fasting and whatever we sacrifice, we give to the poor."
During Lent, some parishes take the money they save during Lent and use it toward various collections for the needy. At St. Casimir Parish in Buffalo, where Father Krysa serves as rector, the money is brought to the Lord's Tomb on Holy Saturday, and it goes toward goods for the parish's food pantry.
"This offering of ours goes toward people for whom fasting is a daily meal," Father Krysa said. "What I tell our people is to keep their Scriptures right at their kitchen table, or wherever they sit the most. If it's in their lounge chair, that's fine, and keep them open, so that it challenges your eyes to pick it up and read. It's ready, it's user-friendly and you don't have to follow instructions to open it up." He also linked fasting and Scripture, likening Scripture to the meal that is being cooked while prayer is the "fuel."
"Having fueled our prayer with fasting, having baked our prayer with the Sacred Scripture every day, which becomes our spiritual food. We take what we have baked to the altar on Sunday, and that becomes the Body of Christ," Father Krysa said. "Fasting was never meant to not eat the whole day, and not eat at all. Even ascetics who fast on just bread and water, eat and drink at least some bread and water."
Father Krysa said before Lent, the Office of Worship will have sessions with priests, at the request of Bishop Richard J. Malone. The program is called "Ministers of the Encounter with Christ," which will go for a total of three years, starting with priests and going into the "priestly spirituality of the Mass."
The focus will be on spirituality, which will shift the focus away from debate amongst members of the clergy concerning how to do one thing, or what the right interpretation should be for something else, according to Father Krysa. Therefore, the emphasis will be shifted from the "how" to the why."
"What that means is, what is behind everything going on that the priest does? The most important word there is 'does' - actions," said Father Krysa. "Praying is not just words. In Catholic tradition, praying is actions. If the priest leads prayer in union with the people, what are the actions?"
According to Father Krysa, one of the first actions is silence, because silence in the Mass, particularly in the instances after the priest says, 'Let us pray,' occurs when the other people in the church are asked to pray with the priest. "Silence is active. It's not passive, and silence is prayer," he also said. "I, personally, have been experiencing (silence) as the most intimate moment, for me and my people, at Mass."
During this time, they will also talk about singing as action, particularly responses and singing that takes place between priests and parishioners, another example of the "action prayer." Additionally, as part of this Lenten discussion in the diocese, Father Krysa said another important focus will be on what priests do with their hands during Mass. When the priest does this at Mass, he is raising up people's prayers.
When people consider classic images of priests, they often picture a priest holding up a host or a chalice. However, one of the most perfect images of a priest is one with his hands open, who is holding up the prayer of the church and the prayers of his parishioners, according to Father Krysa.
"We're using this time, just before Lent and Lent, to reflect upon the meaning of action prayer, of the gestures we use as priests," he added. "Basically, to do a self-examination: how aware, and how mindful, am I as a priest in incorporating those gestures as prayer gestures? That's a very important question."