For the majority of my life I have attended a non-denominational church, so this is my first year truly participating in Lent. I have had a lot of questions: what is Lent, what is the purpose, what is ash Wednesday? The only thing I knew of Lent was that people typically gave up ¨something¨. As I have done more research and delved into the significance and meaning behind Lent, I have discovered many things that I did not know before. I have found that some who practice Lent also too do not know the meaning and significance behind the liturgical season. Or maybe you are simply just curious why you see a bunch of people walking around with ¨dirt¨ on their forehead. Below, I have shared what I have learned and how I am choosing to grow closer to God in this season of Lent.
What is Lent?
Lent is a solemn season of repentance, prayer, and fasting. The season lasts for forty days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending the day before Easter. The season reflects when Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying in the desert before he began his ministry. Lent is observed by a variety of Christian denominations. Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, takes place the day before the season of fasting; this is a day for moderate indulgence. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics go to mass to receive ashes in the shape of a cross on their forehead, as a symbol of penance. This day also consists of prayer and fasting. Resistance to temptation, typically foods is a practice during lent to instill religious discipline. Typically, something is given up for Lent so God can therefore fill that hole. Catholics, fast by abstaining from meat on Fridays (I will go into further detail later). Sundays are not included in the season of Lent, they are reserved for days of celebration of the resurrection of Christ. One, may freely partake in what they gave up on Sundays, such as sugar, television, social media etc. Purple, is the color you will find in Catholic churches during the season of Lent. Purple represents royalty and mourning, both perfect for this season. The last week of Lent is known as holy week, beginning with Palm Sunday. On Holy Thursday, the last supper is celebrated. On Good Friday, the suffering of Christ is commemorated.
What is the Significance of the Ashes?
The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. When the ashes are applied the words, ¨Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return¨ are spoken over you. This is a reminder that we are not of this world, that we were made from dust and we will return to dust, we live for God and God only. Ashes symbolize grief, the grief that we have separated ourselves from God through sinning against him. So, what are these ashes made out of? The ashes are made from blessed palm branches used in the previous year´s Palm Sunday mass. How cool is that??
Fasting and Abstinence
Abstinence is going without; this is practiced through meatless Fridays. Fasting is when you have one large meal and two smaller meals, without snacks in between. Fasting does not necessarily mean that you need to go completely without food. This is a time to become more self-aware and creating discipline food-wise and in your faith.
What I am Doing for Lent
I am not ¨giving up¨ something for lent, per se. I am focusing on what I can add to my life, instead of take away. The goal at the end of Lent is to grow more like Christ, allowing Christ to be first in our life. We are preparing for Jesus´ resurrection. God should be our number one always, but especially during this season. Some great ideas are starting your day with a prayer/scripture, setting a reminder repeatedly throughout the day with a verse, setting your watch to go off every ten minutes to remind yourself to keep God as number one. There are so many other things we can do to incorporate God into our everyday lives. I am doing so by reading a Lent devotional each day in order to remind myself to keep God number one, but also to remind myself constantly on what Lent is really about. I have linked the devotional I am doing here. I would love for you to participate with me! I also love listening to Christian music and religion related podcasts in the car. You know me, always listening to podcasts! The road and driving can be a stressful experience, so it is always beneficial for me to be reinstating the truth and peace of God over me in this time. It really does help with those crazy drivers! Another thing I am doing is praying for others in my life, whether they be Christian or not. As Easter approaches, I am constantly reminded of the amazing sacrifice God made for me, sending his son to die on the cross for MY sins. This is a perfect time to pray for loved ones and the salvation for those who do not yet know our great Savior.
Want to Know More?
There are many things to know about Lent. Want to know about each significant days in Lent, the Biblical background, or practices during Lent? Catholic.org is a great place to start! Their articles and videos are all very factual and to the point. If you are looking for someone who is fabulous at explaining Lent and the Catholic faith, yet at the same time is very relatable, Fr. Mike Schmitz is your guy! I have linked his YouTube account here.
¨Lent comes to reawaken us.¨ -Pope Francis
¨God pursues you every day of your life, Lent is a chance to turn and be still enough to be caught.¨
¨We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative.¨ -Ven. Fulton J. Sheen
¨Dear God, The next 40 days, Don´t let me focus on something I am giving up. Let me focus on someone who gave it all up for me. Renew my mind and draw me back to my first love. Prepare my heart for Easter, for your sacrifice, for your resurrection!¨
¨The ashes mean I´m a sinner. The shape of the cross means I have a savior.¨ -Fr. Mike Schmitz