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Almsgiving: Lenten practice gives chance to 'be generous with the poor'


An usher uses a collection basket during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral in Newark, N.J., March 1. Almsgiving, or donating money or goods to the poor, is one of the three pillars of the church's Lenten practices along with prayer and fasting. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although the word almsgiving does not come up much in regular conversation, Catholics hear it plenty during Lent since it is one of the three pillars of the church's Lenten practices along with prayer and fasting.

Although the three practices work together, almsgiving can sometimes get the short shrift because people might be more apt to pray and fast -- in private or at church -- than they might reach out to those in need.

The church defines almsgiving as donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as "a witness to fraternal charity" and "a work of justice pleasing to God."

There is plenty of biblical support for this practice in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus urged his disciples not to brag about helping others saying: "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."

An Old Testament passage puts almsgiving at the top of the Lenten practices: "Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves from death, and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life" (Tobit 12:8-9).

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