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Bishops seek to ‘revitalise’ Lent as season of penitence

By on Friday, 3 December 2010

A woman receives the mark of ashes at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York (Photo: CNS)

A woman receives the mark of ashes at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York (Photo: CNS)

The general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has been tasked with finding ways to revitalise Lent as the penitential season.

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s September visit to Britain the bishops discussed restoring Friday penance during their November plenary meeting. They decided that it was important to re-emphasise Lent as a season of penitence first, in order to later look into ways of restoring the custom of Friday fasts, a source said. The move comes in a bid to restore public manifestations of Catholicism following the Pope’s visit which was widely hailed as a success.

In the Advent letter to his flock, Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton spoke about restoring the Friday Fast.

He said: “This was one of the most obvious signs of Catholic identity, apart from going to Mass. It determined the diet in places like prison and hospital, and was something that Catholics were instinctively conscious of: we knew that we couldn’t have meat like everybody else that day, and it was a source of a sort of pride – it marked us out as different.

“Today we are perhaps less willing to be marked out, in case we are marked out as not just different, but ‘odd’. And that is what we had been told, and began to believe.

“But the Pope’s visit has said to us that this is not ‘odd’, but that it’s actually important. A few years ago I suggested that we might take up another of those old Catholic practices, grace before meals, if we had lost the habit of it. It’s not difficult, doesn’t take much time, but it’s a gentle reminder.

“There are all sorts of small ways in which we quietly show to the world that we believe in Christ, and that we want to welcome Christ back into a world that has either largely forgotten him or never really heard of him. Pop into the church when you are passing, so that people can see it. Put a crucifix in the window. If you are at work or with friends and people ask you what you did at the weekend, mention the fact that you went to church. But make sure it’s true. And we can also show ourselves, by praying a little more often, and spending time reflecting on the Bible.”

Since Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain a number of bishops have called for more public gestures of Catholicity. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster asked for Catholics to make more visible signs of their faith in his September pastoral letter, urging the faithful to make the Sign of the Cross, say grace at meals and say “Bless you” when people sneeze.

  • Jtliuzza

    Good suggestions, all. Abrogating the Friday abstinence was another post VII blunder. I've been abstaining on Friday's for some time now. I like doing it and encourage other Catholics to take up the forgotten practice.

    Also, if you guys don't already say “Bless you” or “God Bless you” after someone sneezes, what do you say?

  • Rjashton

    Is this the same Kieran Conry who in a recent CH interview told us that you cannot talk to young people about salvation, that the teaching of Humanae Vitae was not not necessarily binding, and that frequent confession was pretty much pointless???!!!
    Have our prayers been answered? Can we hope to have our holydays restored?

  • tiggy

    I thgink the Catholics of this island alrready do enough penance having the Bishops that we do.

  • nytor

    are they going to try to revitalise Advent too, seeing as that's the season we are in, or does it require too much forward planning for the idiots on the episcopal bench?

  • Rich

    In case the Bishops have forgotten, they restored Friday as a day marked by abstinence from meat / prayer / good works about 20 years ago.

    Then about 2 years ago they decided to secularise Holy Days by moving them to Sunday – God bless 'em.

  • antninu

    i think some kind of fast should be re-enforced.

  • aisake040188camaibau

    I would like to encourage Britians citizen and moreover catholics to agree on the issue His Grace has trying to put forward. We in Fiji Island in the South Pacific are still practice old customs of catholism i.e don't eat anything one hour from Mass, go without meat all Friday during the Lentent season,go to confession oftenly i.e once a month and love one another. Reconcialition is a important part of christian and as Catholic this is a one of the seven sacrement we must receive often, the bible says if you go to offer your sacrifise and if you haven;t reconcile with your friends, leave your sacrifise on the altar, go and reconcile and offer your offering to God. I urge catholics please accept what His Grace trying to put forward, try fasting is a great prayer and we should familarise ourself we will not regret the grace and blessing we receive. The Archbishop has been Annointed and be his witnesses on earth, his not doing for his betterment but for our own good. God Bless Us All!

  • MJCarroll

    This is a revelation indeed from Bishop Keiran. Is it actually possible that we could state that he was verging on the orthodox and bringing our traditions back? If this is the case then the Pope's visit really was far more successful than I could have ever imagined.

    So instead of attacking him for once, I think we should congratulate him and welcome this initiative and give him a chance despite his past track record”.

    Personally, I am interested in the following quote:

    …“Today we are perhaps less willing to be marked out, in case we are marked out as not just different, but ‘odd’”….

    Does any one out there actually think that we would be marked out? I have heard comments that the Bishop's have said that Britain is not ready for Catholicism having a greater prominence in society. I personally think that this is nonsense these days.

    The last two generations will have virtually no education in terms of the English Reformation (and let's not forget the general apathy of the UK population). I think that Britain is ready for a bit more Catholicism with out being discriminated against.

    It is now time for English Catholicism (and our Bishop's) to move on and be bolder!