The Lenten season
Lent is a period of 40 days which begins from ash Wednesday and ends in Easter , Lent is a season of reflection and fasting in commemoration of suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ and his resurrection on Easter Sunday
Whereas Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion by Rome. This is believed to have taken place in Roman occupied Jerusalem.
The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century (and not all do significantly) use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is more common these days for believers to surrender a particular vice such as favourite foods or smoking. Whatever the sacrifice it is a reflection of Jesus’ deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self-discipline.
Why 40 days?
40 is a significant number in Jewish-Christian scripture:
- In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain.
- The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God.
- Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.
- Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
Most Christians regard Jesus’ time in the wilderness as the key event for the duration of Lent.
Why is it called Lent?
Lent is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer.
The colour purple
Purple is the symbolic colour used in some churches throughout Lent, for drapes and altar frontals.
Purple is used for two reasons: firstly because it is associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and secondly because purple is the colour associated with royalty, and celebrates Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty.
East and West
Both the eastern and western churches observe Lent but they count the 40 days differently.
The western church excludes Sundays (which is celebrated as the day of Christ’s resurrection) whereas the eastern church includes them.
The churches also start Lent on different days.
Western churches start Lent on the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day (called Ash Wednesday).
Eastern churches start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter. Eastern churches call this period the ‘Great Lent’.
What Do We Do during Lent?
Lent is a time when participants can carry out a three-fold mission, with the key pillars being fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Certainly, these components are not new within our Catholic teachings nor are they reserved only for Lent, as we are encouraged to practice them regularly throughout the year. However, a special and renewed focus on each of them during Lent can foster growth and appreciation within our collective faith and respective spiritual journeys.
As Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days, we, too, are called to forgo something for the same period when observing Lent. It is during this time we can deepen our awareness of his sacrifice on the Cross, as well as Jesus’ daily forgiveness of our sins and unconditional love for us.
It should be noted, however, this personal sacrifice should be difficult but healthy, while respecting responsibilities.
For instance, giving up coffee for Lent takes little to no effort if one rarely or never drinks it. Along the same lines, going without something you enjoy regularly—like Netflix, if you watch it often—may seem like an impossible task, but is a small price to pay for a step closer to eternal salvation. A student electing not to do any homework for the Lenten weeks ignores his or her academic obligations and can suffer harmful ramifications. The decision not to use any illicit drugs only during Lent, and then resume the practice afterwards, contradicts our moral duty to obey civil laws and not participate in criminal activities.
Despite the challenge of fasting, we can take solace in knowing Jesus protects us during our struggle, as St. John Henry Newman reminds us:
“Even in our penitential exercises, Christ has gone before us to sanctify them to us. He has blessed fasting as a means of grace, in that He fasted.”Tears of Christ
During Lent, Catholics and other Christian participants are given a reprieve on Sundays as a “mini-Easter,” allowing us to break our temptation. Again, though, this is not designed to allow or condone taking part in any inappropriate behavior, such as beating up a sibling or driving a vehicle while under the influence.
Stressing the importance of recognizing those in need while demonstrating the model of selflessness that Jesus embodied on earth, Lent offers us an opportunity to further concentrate on displaying acts of charity within our communities.
Whether it be through the giving of time, money, clothing or food, volunteer service provides us a perfect occasion to improve society by living out Jesus’ teaching of helping him through helping his people.
Such offerings remind us of the valuable need to remain disciplined and prudent regarding our own desires in life, as well as the standard set in order to be welcomed into God’s Kingdom.
Another avenue for self-growth during Lent that can lead to closer relationship with God is prayer.
While talking with God is a practice Catholics and all Christians should conduct regularly no matter what point in the year, Lent presents us with an especially meaningful time to connect with our Lord and nurture our bond.
We can strengthen our relationship with God through deeper and more frequent prayer activity, such as Scripture readings before beginning our daily morning routine, or praying at mealtimes, commuting to work or school, or during nature walks and other such exercises.
Lent can also provide us a chance to pray in ways beyond simply asking things from God for ourselves. Praising him for his glory and wonder, acknowledging and thanking him for our many blessings and calling on God to intercede and aid in the lives of others are all examples of how we can appreciate God’s presence and works.
So while Lent may seem demanding and perhaps uncomfortable, its purpose is definitely not to cause us pain. During this important season, we are given an opportunity for self-examination in order to better discover both our identity as children of God and the beautiful relationship with the Lord that can flow from that.
As we embark now on this annual adventure in our faith, may we embrace each day Lent brings as an occasion to advance spiritually and better connect with Jesus and our neighbors.
- Fasting means eating one normal-sized meal and two smaller ones with no snacks.
- Abstinence means not eating meat [milk, eggs and fish are allowed]
- Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence
- Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence.
- Those 14 and older are asked to abstain from meat. Those 18 – 59 are asked to fast, those with medical conditions that prevent fasting are excluded.
- Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter, but Lent is considered to be ’40 days’. The reason is that Sundays are not counted as days of Lent. Sundays are a ‘feast day’, the day we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.