Fasting & Feasting: How to Celebrate Solemnities During Lent
Lent can seem long and dreary. However, the Church does not want us to experience it in this way and to this end offers us the opportunity to celebrate two great feasts in the midst of this penitential season. The Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (March 25) stand as great celebrations and offer an oasis in the midst of Lent.
The term solemnity takes its root from the word “solemn” which means “dignified”. During a solemnity we honor a great moment in salvation history. The celebration of the great event raises the day to the highest dignity or importance and solemnities are considered the highest and most important feasts in the Church.
Why should we celebrate the solemnities of Lent?
First, these great feasts offer a reprieve during the season of Lent. Solemnities are of such great importance that celebrating supersedes penance. For example, when a solemnity falls upon Friday (such as the Solemnity of the Annunciation this year), the requirement to abstain from meat is lifted. Cannon Law states, “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday…” Canon 1251. Hence, the Church deems the celebration of these great days so important that it enshrines our freedom to celebrate in the official law of the Church.
There are several reasons to celebrate these great feasts. First, celebrating the feasts reminds us that penance and Lent are not about torturing ourselves. We are not stoics. Penance is not solely about self-denial. We don’t even make sacrifices during Lent because the things we are giving up are bad in and of themselves. Rather, we give up good things in honor of better things. Our Lenten sacrifices draw us closer to God precisely because we are choosing the highest good (honoring God) over even the best goods of the world. For more information about solemnities, click here.
Secondly, celebrating the solemnities reminds us that penance and sadness are not the same thing. The feasts allow us to experience joy in the midst of a penitential season. Hence penance and joy are united.
Next, celebrating the solemnities reminds us to look for the saving works of God in our own lives. They offer us a chance to reflect upon the action of God in history. Our hearts should naturally turn to our own personal history. Reflecting on God’s universal actions in history teaches us to recognize His actions in our own lives.
Finally, celebrating the solemnities reminds us of the great dignity in store for us. For example, the Feast of St. Joseph demonstrates the honor bestowed on the Saints in heaven. But heaven is our final destination too. Our final triumph and welcome into heaven will be accompanied by great rejoicing. “May we shout for joy at your victory, raise the banners in the name of our God.” (Psalm 20: 6) or again “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance...” (Luke 15:7)
How do we celebrate?
Here are some simple ideas to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19:
· Attend Mass
· Read a book about St. Joseph, such as Good Saint Joseph by Fr. Lovasik for children, Through the Heart of St. Joseph by Fr. Boniface Hicks OSB, or St. Joseph and His World by Mike Aquilina
· Attend a local St. Joseph Table
· Eat spaghetti for supper (See: St. Joseph's Day Pasta)
· St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers. Give money to your local food pantry or Catholic Charities in order to help those who are less fortunate and perhaps in need of work.
· Build a shrine for St. Joseph
· Use tools to make or fix something (since St. Joseph was a carpenter)
For the Annunciation on March 25:
· Attend Mass
· Wear blue (because Mary is typically depicted in blue)
· Pray the Rosary (most particularly the Joyful Mysteries)
· Begin a Marian Consecration such as 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration by Michael E Gaitley, MIC
· Read a book about Mary, such as Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross by Edward Sri or The World’s First Love by Fulton J Sheen
· Donate time or money to your local Pregnancy Resource Center
· Show your children pictures of their ultrasounds (if you have them) and pray for unborn babies