Lent transforms into Holy Week

In the waning days of Lent and at the opening of Holy Week, the faithful across the Diocese of Venice prepared for the Easter Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.

On Palm Sunday, April 10, 2022, the Mass opened with a blessing of the Palms and entrance into the Church, reminiscent of the Lord’s Messianic entrance into Jerusalem.

Some Parishes, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee and St. Michael in Wauchula, to name a few, started the opening of the Mass outdoors with an empty Church. This opening included a reading from the Gospel of Luke (19-28-40) and was followed by a procession of the palms.

The Passion of the Lord is a key component of the Palm Sunday Mass. During the 40 Days of Lent, Parishes and Diocesan Catholic schools actively learn about and recite the Stations of the Cross, typically on the Fridays of Lent.

Each Diocesan Catholic school offered a “Living Stations of the Cross,” typically with older students leading the reenactment of the Passion of Our Lord.

Students at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples created a Stations of the Cross for the Prayer Garden.

At Incarnation Catholic School and Parish in Sarasota, the outdoor Stations received an upgrade with staining, bronzing, and rebuilding some of the parts that were needed. The “new” Stations were completed just in time for the Passiontide.

At Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, the religious education program had their young charges (grades 1-5) participate in an interactive Stations of the Cross. Students were selected to portray key characters bringing the stations “to life,” while Msgr. Phil Hill, an assisting priest, provided the narration and background for each Station. This enabled the children to better understand Jesus’ journey to Calvary. Catechists and parents were on hand to listen to the story leading to Christ’s crucifixion.

Using Legos to create the Stations

Eighth grade students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota benefitted from using multiple skills, including thousands of Lego bricks, to build the 14 Stations of the Cross.

Maria Beall, St. Martha’s religion teacher and technology integration specialist, challenged her students to develop innovative ideas to celebrate Holy Week.

“My students worked on this project four days a week for six weeks,” Beall said. “The class broke into smaller groups to give each Station a three-dimensional aspect that offered viewers a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice.”

The students used existing Lego bricks they have as part of an ongoing STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math) initiative. In addition, the Zuniga family donated thousands more Lego pieces from their own collection which offered enough of a variety of bricks to allow the project to succeed.

“My family was very excited to support this creative collaboration in honor of Holy Week,” said Emma Zuniga, an eighth grader who helped build the ninth Station, Jesus Falls for the Third Time. “(My classmates) and I enjoyed mixing Lego pieces from various collections to create realistic depictions of every Station.”

Students supplemented their masterpieces with a pair of QR codes. These codes can be scanned from a phone or smart device which then automatically links to numerous articles, images and videos that offered the history and reflections for each Station. For each Station, one QR code contained resources tailored to kindergarten through third grade, while the other code offered information for fourth through eighth grade.

“This was the biggest challenge for the class,” Beall said. “They had to think back to their days in elementary school on how they taught and understood the Stations. They also needed to show the connection between how an event so sad and painful could turn out to be the most joyful event in Christianity.”

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education, and Jennifer Falestiny, Curriculum Coordinator, visited St. Martha Catholic School on April 11, 2022, to see the results of the project and how it integrated several key many STREAM components into the project.

The Lego Stations of the Cross were on display at St. Martha Catholic School throughout Holy Week. After Easter, the students will preserve the collection in shadow boxes, while the QR codes will be placed on display in the school prayer garden.

“This was something more than a class project,” Emma Zuniga said. “We created a legacy by presenting the Stations of the Cross that inspired our school to pray, reflect, and share Catholic values and teachings with their friends and family.”

The activities listed above are just a fraction of the examples of how Diocesan Parishes and Catholic schools not only transitioned from the Lent Season into Holy Week, but also instilled lasting memories and lessons that build Catholic values.

John L. Carkeet IV, contributed information to this story.

Easter Sunday Televised Mass

The Diocese of Venice in Florida will air the televised Easter Sunday (April 17) Mass, for a full hour. The Mass can be viewed at 9 a.m. on the CW Network in Sarasota, Manatee, Desoto, Charlotte, Hardee and Highland counties, and at 10:30 a.m. on FOX-4 in Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Desoto counties. The Mass is also available on the Diocese of Venice website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass.

Parish Easter Mass times online

The Easter Sunday Mass times at Parishes and Missions throughout the Diocese of Venice are available online. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/diocese-of-venice-2022-holy-week-mass-times/.

News Briefs for the week of April 8, 2022

Parish hosts 40-hour Devotion

St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral hosted a 40-hour Devotion April 2, to April 4, 2022. This devotion included Adoration, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, praying the Holy Hour and concluded with a Mass. Father Ricky Varner, Pastor at St. Katharine Drexel, stressed the importance of focusing on the Lord through Eucharistic Adoration. The 40-hour Devotion was spilt into blocks of time throughout the three days to allow for more people to participate and benefit from spending prayerful time in the presence of the Lord.

 Candlelight Vigil to close 40 Days for Life in Sarasota

Everyone is invited to participate in the closing Candlelight Vigil of the 40 Days for Life spring campaign in Sarasota on Saturday, April 9, 2022. The Vigil will begin at 7:45 p.m. in front of the regional Planned Parenthood abortion facility at 736 Central Ave. in Sarasota. The 40 Days for Life spring campaign began on Ash Wednesday in thousands of communities, including Sarasota and Fort Myers. During 40 Days, at all of these sites, the faithful stood as peaceful witnesses for life. While the 40 Days for Life campaign is concluding, there are year-round opportunities to pray at abortion facilities in the Diocese. For more information, please contact Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-484-9543 or Berdeaux#dioceseofvenice.org.

 Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday Televised Mass

The Diocese of Venice in Florida will air the televised Palm Sunday (April 10) and Easter Sunday (April 17) Masses, each for a full hour. The Masses can be viewed at 9 a.m. on the CW Network in Sarasota, Manatee, Desoto, Charlotte, Hardee and Highland counties, and at 10:30 a.m. on FOX-4 in Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Desoto counties. The Mass is also available on the Diocese of Venice website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass.

Chrism Mass April 12

The Diocese of Venice Chrism Mass, which takes place during Holy Week every year, will be held at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 12 at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., in Venice. During this Mass, the faithful of the Diocese join the Priests, Deacons and Bishop Frank J. Dewane for the blessing of the Holy Oils which are used in the administration of the Sacraments at each parish throughout the year. Priests and Deacons celebrating 25 and 50 years of Ordination are recognized at this Mass. All are encouraged to attend in support of our clergy and to participate in this important Holy Week celebration.

The 2022 Priest and Deacon Jubilarians are:

  • 50 years – Msgr. Joseph Stearns, Father Adrian Wilde, O. Carm., Father David Foley, and Deacon Ray Barrett.
  • 25 years – Father Hugh McGuigan, OSFS, Father Patrick O’Connor, OSFS, Father Leszek Sikorski, Deacon Henry de Mena, and Deacon Mark Miravalle.

Holy Week Mass times online

To learn about the times for the Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Mass and service times at Parishes and Missions throughout the Diocese of Venice, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/diocese-of-venice-2022-holy-week-mass-times/.

Students visit biomed business

Bishop Verot Catholic High School students in “Medical Interventions,” a third-year course in the Biomedical Sciences program in Fort Myers, visited Neogenomics on April 1, 2022, to better understand the application of the research they are doing in class and learn about potential career paths.

Young students study DNA

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Venice pride themselves on offering programs in all areas of study including science. Seventh graders at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring were studying DNA and genetics on March 30, 2022. As part of the lesson, they extracted their own DNA, using dried skin, and observed it in the school’s STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) lab. Classes like this enable students to learn more about not only the world around them, but also about themselves: students identify themselves as unique through their DNA and, in particular, as children of God.

Field trip teaches about Florida wildlife

A March 31, 2022, field trip to Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero by fifth graders from St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers helped the young students learn about wildlife that is native to Florida. The program, called the “Panther Posse,” brings in wildlife experts to share images and research that is ongoing about the Florida panther as well as other wildlife, including black bears. The presentation is a mix of fun and hands-on science. Students learned to identify trail markings of different wildlife as well as what dangers the wildlife face from pollution and interaction with people. The students left the program as newly launched naturalists and scientists.

Cyber safety education

Students at the different schools in Lee County heard from a specialist the week of March 29, 2022, about how to navigate technology and social media in today’s world. Robert Hackenson Jr. of Dynamic Influence spoke with students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers as well as at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. These lessons provided basic tips on the pitfalls of providing too much information about yourself online. The safety aspects could not be overstated as online predators try to manipulate people of all ages to endanger the users in different ways. Hackenson used age-appropriate examples to ensure the students understood these dangers. One of the focuses was on Social Media Land Mines, which included never revealing your location, details about your home or private life and much more.

Sneak preview wows young students

Student groups from St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers were given a sneak peek of the musical “Cinderella” at Bishop Verot Catholic High School on April 1, 2022. Two special previews were offered for the younger students who saw the elaborate production by the Verot Theater Department. Afterwards, the students were able to meet some of the cast and people who worked behind-the-scenes to make the show happen. Full performances were offered throughout the subsequent weekend.

Lenten journey begins

Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the three traditional disciplines of Lent, but we are reminded to do these things privately because the Lord knows us and what we are doing.

Grand displays are not what the Lord wants, explained Father Robert Tatman, Parochial Vicar of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota. The clear example of this is represented in the ashes marked on one’s forehead to open Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

“They don’t last very long, but it is not something we want to wear on the outside, just to be seen,” Father Tatman said. “We want it to cleanse and purify our inner heart.”

In addition to opening the Lenten Season, which concludes on Holy Thursday, April 14, on Ash Wednesday the faithful across the Diocese of Venice joined in fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine as called for by Pope Francis.

As Bishop Frank J. Dewane noted in a letter to the faithful on March 1, “Our Catholic Faith calls each of us to care for those in need, and, at this time in particular, for those who are suffering in the wake of this terrible tragedy.”

In the letter, Bishop Dewane stated that donations made to the collection on Ash Wednesday will support charitable relief for the Ukraine and assist in providing humanitarian aid, as well as necessary recovery efforts.

For those not prepared for the collection, donations may be sent to the Diocese of Venice, with “Ukraine” indicated in the memo or note line at the following address: Diocese of Venice in Florida, Ukraine Relief, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

As the Lenten Season progresses, the precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season merits a reminder to all. To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Friday, April 8, and from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 9. Check with your local Parish for additional confession times or the availability of a Penance Service. These opportunities are made available so that the faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Lenten Season.

Lent – a time of preparation

The Lenten Season is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Faith.

The 40-day Season begins on Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022, ending at sundown on Holy Thursday, April 14, and is an opportunity for the faithful to undertake the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a means to know Christ better and follow His will more faithfully.

“By uniting the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – one seeks to become a better person, more than he or she has ever been before,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said.

In his Lenten message for 2021, Pope Francis reflected, “In our Lenten journey towards Easter, let us remember the One who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8). During this season of conversion, let us renew our faith, draw from the ‘living water’ of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence from meat for Catholics from the age of 18 to 59, meaning only one full meal and two smaller meals not equal to a full meal are permitted. The Church asks that, if possible, the fast on Good Friday, the “Paschal fast,” be continued until the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday to honor the suffering and death of Jesus and prepare more fully for His resurrection. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence from meat from the age of 14.

Lent is also the time for the baptized to renew their baptismal commitment, while those who desire to become Catholics enter a process of learning and discernment, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), in preparation for baptism during the Easter Vigil. An important part of the RCIA process is the Rite of Election, when those hundreds from across the Diocese who seek to enter the Church present themselves to the Bishop. This occurs on the first Sunday of Lent, March 6, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

The precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season merits a reminder to all. To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Friday, April 8, and from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 9. Check with your local Parish for additional confession times or the availability of a Penance Service. These opportunities are made available so that the faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It must be remembered that the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – are not simply things to do during Lent, but much more. Instead, prayer, gives us humility rather than pride, relying on God rather than ourselves; fasting from those things that interfere in strengthening a relationship with God; and almsgiving with compassion for those in need, will make the Lenten journey a fruitful period of renewal.

Students encouraged to sacrifice during Lent

In order to sit at the table of the Lord, we must all make sacrifices.

“The challenge is to do what Christ asks,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane told students during a number of Lenten Masses he celebrated at schools throughout the Diocese of Venice in early March. “We need to take seriously our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving, following the example of Christ.”

Just as Christ served as our Savior, so must we all go out and serve our brothers and sisters in need. “It is the Lord who asks you to respond to this call,” Bishop Dewane continued. “It is not always easy, but this is a time of sacrifice, and Lent is the perfect opportunity to respond and live out that call to serve others as Children of God. Can you do that?” The students at each Mass gave a resounding: “Yes!”

Each Lent, Bishop Dewane takes the time to celebrate Mass at as many Diocesan Catholic schools as possible. The goal is not only to highlight the importance of the Lenten Season, but to also show support for the students and schools as they continue through their academic year.

After each Mass for elementary schools, the Bishop met privately with the eighth graders. First encouraging the group to continue their education at a Diocesan Catholic high school, and then Bishop Dewane also fields any and all questions from the students.

The Bishop celebrated Masses for students at St. John Neumann Catholic High School and St. Ann Catholic School in Naples on March 3, 2021; for St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples on March 4; and then for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte on March 5. Additional Masses will take place later in March.

 

Diocese-wide Opportunity for Sacrament of Reconciliation late March

Confessionals will open for extended hours throughout the Diocese of Venice in late March to allow everyone ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In consultation with the Diocesan Presbyteral Council, Bishop Frank J. Dewane has designated the following days and times for Confession at EACH Parish: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, March 26, 2021, and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday, March 27.

This Diocesan-wide opportunity for Confession has been made available each Lent since 2012. These times are offered in addition to already scheduled Parish Confession times or planned Penance Services.

The precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season merits a reminder to all to take advantage of this opportunity.

Pope Francis often speaks about the healing benefits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, saying that he goes about once every two weeks. “When I go to confession,” the Holy Father added,” it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul, to heal my heart and to be healed of some wrongdoing.”

The Pope also reminds us no one is free from sin and that feeling a little “ashamed before God is a grace… Going to confession is going to an encounter with the Lord who forgives us, who loves us and our shame is what we offer him… When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free… forgiven, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! Jesus is there…and He receives you with so much love!”

As the Catechism teaches, the priest is acting in Persona Christi (in the person of Christ), within the confessional. So, like presenting oneself at the altar to be nourished by Christ in the Eucharist, a person going to Confession, is not ultimately confessing to a priest, but confessing to and receiving forgiveness from Jesus Christ.

It was Christ who desired that the faithful “receive forgiveness by means of the ministers of the community,” Pope Francis continued. And it is Christ “who gives this power.”

The Pope notes, through the presence and words of a priest, penitents have “the certainty of forgiveness in the name of the Church…this is having the surety that God forgives us always. He never tires of forgiving us and we must never tire of going to ask for forgiveness.”

Reconciliation in Schools

For the same reasons, Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools have been setting aside time to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation available for students.

For example, at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, the student, faculty and staff participated in a Lenten Penance Service on Feb. 23. Many of the students took advantage of the opportunity to go to confession with one of the several priests present.

Three priests were available to hear confessions from second and third graders March 4 at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral. In addition, numerous students from St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota received the Sacrament for the first time on March 7.

Rite of Election: Catechumens, candidates welcomed

When the Easter Vigil takes place on April 3, 2021, the Diocese of Venice will be welcoming 314 who will become Catholic and enter the Church.

One major step in this journey occurred on Feb. 21, 2021, when the Rite of Election was held on the first Sunday of Lent. This annual tradition is a formal Rite in which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect. Candidates are also present as part of their calling to continuing conversion.

“I am humbled to stand before you catechumens and candidates, you come here to Holy Mother Church to publicly pronounce your “Yes!” to Jesus,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said.  “You declare yourself today that this is what you want to do. I welcome you and I trust that your sponsors, the priests, DREs (Directors of Religious Education), and parish representatives, have guided you well. I say thank you to all for your presence and the support that you give.”

Bishop Dewane reminded the catechumens and candidates at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on Feb. 21, 2021 that the Rite of Election is not just a gathering of people who have chosen a religion, but a deeper commitment, made by a free choice.

“My prayer is that you are here today because you are convinced in your mind, heart and, most importantly, your soul, that the Catholic Church offers you the fullness of Christianity in a very clear way, and you are content and are willing to live it out in that way,” the Bishop stated.

He warned them that they will struggle during this process, but they must stand fast in their conviction to find the time in their lives to open themselves to hear Jesus Christ within their hearts.

Details of the Rite of Election were adapted this year to comply with social distancing requirements necessitated by the Pandemic. Instead of one large gathering at the Cathedral, this year there are four celebrations of the Rite presided over by Bishop Dewane, one in each Deanery (regions within the Diocese). The first, at the Cathedral accommodated those from the Northern Deanery, while later the same day the Rite took place at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring for the Eastern Deanery. On Feb. 28, additional Rites will take place at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers for the Central Deanery, and then at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples for the Southern Deanery.

To accommodate social distancing, sponsors did not sit or stand next to their catechumens this year unless they were spouses or members of the same household. During the Act of Admission, sponsors extended a hand toward their catechumen, instead of placing a hand on the catechumen’s shoulder, as in past years.

The Rite of Election also is called the enrollment of names, because each catechumen writes his or her name in the Book of the Elect. When the catechumens from each Parish were called forward, a sheet with the signed names was carried by one catechumen and presented to the Bishop. Instead of shaking hands with each catechumen, as was done in past years, this year Bishop Dewane welcomed them with a respectful bow.

The catechumens and candidates are part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). These catechumens are the unbaptized and unchurched who inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith. Many times, catechumens are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. RCIA is a journey of discovery and Faith. They have been meeting weekly since last fall – in many cases on Zoom – to share their faith journeys and learn about the Catholic Church. Children and teens ages 7 to 17 participate in similar groups geared to their own age ranges.

After completing the Rite of Election, the catechumens continue their spiritual formation throughout the remainder of Lent, a period of purification and enlightenment – the final, intense preparation for the reception at the Easter Vigil of the Sacrament of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.

For candidates, those who have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of Faith. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation or Sacrament of Reconciliation. They participate in appropriate religious education classes, often with the catechumens, and will receive any missing Sacraments at the Easter Vigil.

Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish and within the Diocese as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.

Ash Wednesday: Lenten Journey begins

The opening of the Lenten Season began with the traditional Ash Wednesday Mass, starting a journey which ends prior to the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021.

During this journey, one must take time to live the Lenten Season in a particular way, looking internally and answering the question: What more can I do to respond to the goodness of the Lord in my life?

Bishop Frank J. Dewane addressed this issue at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers where he celebrated Mass on Feb. 17, 2021. The Bishop spoke of the need to “up the personal spiritual ante” during Lent, with a renewed focus on the pillars of the Season, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

“We have to take a look at our lives and do more,” Bishop Dewane said. “Am I acting in a prayerful spirit? Is my fasting more than just a diet or the elimination of something inconsequential, or are you changing the way you live your life in a meaningful way? Is my almsgiving more than giving money, because there are so many more things we can do now to help, especially in this time of the Pandemic?”

The Pandemic may make the Lenten Journey different in terms of how we live out that call of Christ, but is all about our response to the Lord, the Bishop continued.

“Yes, we live in a difficult time, but take that experience and let it make us be more demonstrative of the love from which we were created and called, by giving to those around us, reflecting the light of Christ in our lives,” Bishop Dewane concluded.

According to Pope Francis, Lent is about more than the little sacrifices we make, but about realizing where our hearts are oriented, and turning them back toward relationship with God.

“Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, our entire being,” the Holy Father said during an Ash Wednesday Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope advised people to reflect on stories of conversion in Sacred Scripture to know how to start the journey of the Lenten season.

Necessitated in response to the Pandemic, the distribution of ashes was changed to avoid direct contact. Therefore, ashes were sprinkled on the head of the penitents rather than in the sign of the cross on the forehead. This change was directed by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and is a practice which is common in Europe.

Opportunity for Confession in Diocese

The precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season indeed merits recalling for all the Faithful. To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present from 4-8 p.m., Friday, March 26, and 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, March 27.

Additional times for the Sacrament are also offered so that the Faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s mercy. Parishes also could combine to have an evening prayer service with additional priests present to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Check with your local Parish for additional reconciliation times.

Lent: A time to renew our hearts

The Lenten Season always has special meaning, it is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in preparation of celebrating the Paschal Mystery of our Faith.

In the midst of ongoing impacts during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Pope Francis reminds us that it is “a favorable time to prepare to celebrate with renewed hearts the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the cornerstone of our personal and communal Christian life. We must continually return to this mystery in mind and heart, for it will continue to grow within us in the measure that we are open to its spiritual power and respond with freedom and generosity.”

Lent lasts for 40 days – excluding Sundays – from Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17, 2021) to the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which this year falls on April 1. It is a reminder of Christ’s 40 days of temptation and fasting in the desert, and of Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert.

The Season of Lent has a twofold character: first, by recalling or preparing for baptism and secondly, by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery.

Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the three traditional disciplines of Lent. The key to fruitful observance of these practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ. Tips to achieving this include praying the rosary, going to Mass more often, reading the Bible, and going deeper in our relationship with Christ. In addition, give alms and volunteer your time, as a way to profoundly reflect the Light of Christ while assisting our brothers and sisters in Christ.

During Lent, it is also common to participate in a retreat or pray the Stations of the Cross, allowing the opportunity for one to refocus on the Lord in different ways. While the Pandemic may have curbed some of these opportunities, please check with your local Parish for these and other Lenten activities.

At the Easter Vigil (April 3), a group of catechumens and candidates will be coming into full communion with the Church. Bishop Frank J. Dewane presides over the celebration of the Rite of Election. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect. Normally one ceremony takes place each year, but due to concerns related to the Pandemic, the Rite of Election in 2021 will occur in four locations over two weekends. The first pair on Feb. 21, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, and then on Feb. 28, at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers and St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples.

The precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season indeed merits recalling for all the Faithful. To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present from 4-8 p.m., Friday, March 26, and 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, March 27. Additional times for the Sacrament are also offered so that the Faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s mercy. Parishes also could combine to have an evening prayer service with additional priests present to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Check with your local Parish for additional reconciliation times.

Dates of note

On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments has provided guidance on the distribution of ashes amid the Pandemic. Ashes will be sprinkled on the top of the head of the faithful, rather than applying a cross on their foreheads which necessitates contact. The formula will be said only once, at the beginning of the distribution, applying it to all in general: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Following this, the guidance states that the Priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask and distributes the ashes to those who come forward. The Priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one in silence.

On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, March 19. The Solemnity of St. Joseph comes in the midst of the ongoing Diocese of Venice “Year of St. Joseph.” Bishop Dewane consecrated Diocese to the Saint on March 19, 2020, in the context of the Pandemic. The Saint is the Protector of the Universal Church. This celebration will continue through Dec. 8, 2021 in the wake of Pope Francis’ dedicating a “Year of St. Joseph.”

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, March 25, many Parishes add additional Mass to accommodate this day. The day also marks the start of the annual Novena for Mass for Life, a special opportunity to meditate on the progressive development of Our Lord in His mother’s womb.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, March 28, is the day the Church remembers Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. The commemoration with the blessing of the palms and procession, is a ritual action that marks our own entry into Holy Week. Due to the Pandemic, great care will be taken in the distribution of the palms and will vary by Parish. Please contact your local Parish for questions.

During Holy Week, the annual Chrism Mass take place at Epiphany Cathedral at 10:30 a.m., March 30. The Chrism Mass is the largest gathering of priests in the Diocese and a time when they join Bishop Dewane in a celebration of the unity of the priesthood and when the holy oils used in the Sacraments are blessed and consecrated.

REGULATIONS ON FASTING AND ABSTINENCE

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, and Good Friday, April 2, are days of fast and abstinence. All Fridays of Lent are also days of abstinence from meat.

Fasting is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics between the ages of 18 years and 59 years (inclusive). On a fast day one full meal is allowed. Two smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. In the context of observing the fast, eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are allowed. If possible, the fast on Good Friday is to continue until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” is to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily His Resurrection.

Abstinence from meat is to be observed by all Catholics who are 14 years of age and older on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent, including Good Friday.

(Note: If a person is unable to observe the above regulations due to ill health or other serious reasons, they are urged to practice other forms of self-denial that are suitable to their condition.)

Online Opportunity to Grow in Prayer this Lent

The Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation is offering an online course to help Catholics deepen their prayer life during Lent.

The course “Encountering God in Prayer: A Lenten Journey” will begin on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, and continue through Lent and Holy Week, concluding on April 5. This is an adult faith formation course for spiritual enrichment and is not academic but very inspirational and practical; accessible to all Catholics who want to grow in their understanding and practice of prayer.

Dr. John Gresham, Executive Director of the Institute, emphasizes, “These encounter courses are not just for catechists and teachers, (although anyone who teaches the Faith will gain a lot from these courses). The courses are for everybody and designed to provide an enjoyable and enriching learning experience for all adults.”

Participants will be guided through the beautiful teaching on prayer found in part four of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Students will learn from St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John of Damascus on the definition of prayer as well as from Jesus and Mary as teachers of prayer. Topics covered will include different forms of prayer like praise, petition, and intercession as well as the distinctive expressions of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation and contemplation.

The course addresses obstacles to prayer and looks at the Our Father as a model. Along with the reading and discussion of these topics, each week a different prayer practice will be introduced.

Students will receive practical instructions about Lectio Divina (a contemplative way of reading the Bible, praying through Scripture), Visio Divina (a thoughtful contemplation of sacred art) and other ways of prayer. The course includes short video lectures, online discussion, prayer exercises and other learning activities.

The online course format is very convenient as students log in each week at the times most convenient to them. The online discussion also offers participants the opportunity to share their insights and learn from each other.

This past fall, the Institute offered the “Encountering St Joseph” course in a similar online format and a number of those students commented on the convenience.

Feedback on the fall course from students included the following: “I appreciated being able to view the course material based on my schedule without having to make a commitment to a specific time and day.” “Having lecture, video, readings available to me. I could do the class at my own leisure – no pressure – which exemplified the learning experience.”

The course is taught by Dr Gresham who has taught on prayer to lay people, seminarians, religious postulants, and deacons. When asked about this course he noted, “I love teaching this section of the Catechism because it is so rich. It is worth reading, re-reading, and studying in depth. The most important activity we engage in is prayer. Whether you struggle to pray, have a strong prayer life, or find yourself somewhere in-between, you will benefit from this course.”

The “Encountering God in Prayer: A Lenten Journey” course is $25. For more information and to register, please visit the Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation at www.institute-dov.org or call 941-966-7334.

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