The Three Pillars of Lent

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are fundamental practices in the life of a Catholic. They are performed with even more intensity during the season of Lent, a time of radical conversion and spiritual devotion.

The season of Lent is inspired by the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, allowing the devil to tempt him with food, treasure, and power. The fact that Jesus did not give in to these temptations foreshadows his victory over sin and death at Easter.

Imitating Jesus and practicing the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving helps man to detach from worldly things, turn away from sin, and follow God more closely while building up virtues that help him resist temptation.

Fasting overcomes the desires of the flesh, provided it is done with a spirit of repentance. Catholics exercise self-denial, recognizing that everything comes from God and should not be taken for granted. Fasting can include eating less food or even giving up certain habits or activities.

Giving alms and performing other acts of charity helps to detach from earthly possessions while imitating Jesus by showing love toward others. This can include donating money and service to the Church, a food bank, other charities, and even to friends or other neighbors in need.

Prayer shows dependence on God and builds up the virtue of humility. Spending time in solitude and silence while reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Stations of the Cross, meditating on the Passion, or spending time before the Blessed Sacrament overcomes pride and decreases the tendency to focus on one’s self.

Three pillars of preparation:

Supporting the journey from ashes to the Resurrection:

Putting faith into action:

“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Matthew 6: 2-8, 16-18

Highlighting the connection between the body and soul:

The holy violence of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving:

The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1438

Spiritual pillars of the entire season:

Practices directed by Jesus in order to overcome temptation:

It is the news that God loves us and in his incarnate Son has shown us his solidarity, redeeming us from sin and death. Thus the Gospel is a message of liberation, joy and fullness of life. But whoever takes this message seriously must also make the commitment to a new life, inspired by Gospel values. It is a question of moving from a superficial life to deep interiority from selfishness to love, of striving to live according to the model of Christ himself. To help us in this effort, the Church points out to us a path that can be summarized in three words: prayer, fasting, almsgiving.

Pope John Paul II, Angelus Address, 16 February 1997

All three pillars are necessary like legs of a stool:

When, not if:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Serious about prayer:

Share this page with friends and family to start a conversation about your faith.

Don’t miss a post. Learn more about the Catholic Church and strengthen your Catholic faith.

Find more Fiercely Catholic video issues here.

Subscribe here.

Book a Fiercely Catholic program at your next conference, retreat, or other Catholic event.