• Clarice Swanson

The Meaning of 'Lent'

Photo courtesy of Matthew Laker

“Lent.” Commonly referred to as the time recognized as the 40 days before Easter, which starts with ashes on the forehead and consists of patiently waiting to indulge in the treats you promise to sacrifice for the season. But Lent is so much more than this. Each tradition of the season has a purpose, whether symbolic or functional, that helps to better comprehend the meaning being Lent as a whole. Here is a brief look into the meaning behind the landmarks of the Lenten Season.

Ash Wednesday: Originally solely a Catholic Tradition, Ash Wednesday is now observed by more Protestant and Evangelical Churches as well. The tradition of ashes is often recognized as a mark of the start of Lent in which we wait until the Holy Week, when Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and celebrate his Resurrection. Ash Wednesday is also meant as an outward recognition of the sins one has committed, with the mark representing penance for those sins.

Fasting: In this time of reflection and penance, Christians fast both as a form of penance and to recognize the belief that as Jesus sacrificed his life to save humanity, they can sacrifice something enjoyable for 40 days. Christians also abstain from eating meat on Fridays in recognition that Jesus died on Good Friday, and gave up his life for the world. The period of 40 days references multiple scriptures of the bible, including Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.

Almsgiving: While donations to the less fortunate are always encouraged by the church, the Lenten season pays special attention to almsgiving. This again focuses sacrifice of what we have to aid others.

Holy Thursday: Holy Thursday marks the Last Supper in the Catholic Tradition. In some areas, particularly in large cities, the tradition of visiting seven churches in the evening to represent staying awake and keeping watch as Jesus asked his disciples to do in the scriptures.

Good Friday: Good Friday remembers the crucifixion of Jesus, which is marked by services being held at 3pm, the time of Jesus’ death. Many older Catholic households shut off all non religious media programming at this time as well, observing a type of silence until Easter.

Holy Saturday: Also a solemn day, Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, between the days that mark Jesus’ death and Resurrection. In Eastern European traditions, this includes a basket blessing of the food intended for Easter day. The culminating point of the season is Easter Vigil Mass, a mass that allows Catholics to renew their baptismal promises.

This brings us to Easter Sunday, in which the wait is over, and Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Eggs became a symbol of the holiday as they represent the tomb of Jesus that was found empty on Easter morning according to the scriptures.

Recognizing Lent is a huge part of Catholic tradition, but it is twice as important that we recognize the meaning behind our actions and what they truly represent.

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