ROME – Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to rediscover the traditional “penitential weapons” of prayer, fasting and works of charity in order to make Lent a time of inner renewal.
He made the comments during an Ash Wednesday Mass Feb. 21 at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in central Rome. The liturgy began with a procession from the nearby Church of St. Anselm on the Aventine Hill.
The pope, dressed in the purple vestments of the Lenten season, said the 40 days leading up to Easter should be a time to revive the “friendship with God that was lost through sin.”
The church, he said, offers the same ascetic instruments that have proven effective through the centuries.
“Jesus indicates the useful instruments needed for authentic interior and community renewal: the works of charity or almsgiving, prayer, and penitence or fasting,” the pope said.
He said these practices should be performed to please God and not to gain people’s approval.
Fasting, in particular, should not be motivated by physical or aesthetic concerns, but by people’s need for “inner purification and detoxification from the contamination of sin and evil,” he said.
During the Mass, the pope placed ashes on cardinals, bishops, monks and lay faithful, marking the top of the head according to the Ash Wednesday custom in Italy. The marking with ashes, he said, signaled the need for penitence and reminded people that human life is transitory and precarious.
Prayers offered during the liturgy included a special intention calling on all Catholics to show solidarity with the poor, with refugees and with those suffering discrimination, and to strive for justice and practice works of mercy.