For many of us raised in the church (particularly the Roman Catholic Church as I was), we never really talked about what Lent is. We just knew we had to be on our best behavior and “give up” something (the most common items being soda or candy.)
LENT is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is preparation through prayer, repentance, charity and self-denial for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the suffering and death of Jesus, ending with Easter Sunday and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
The word comes from the German word for Spring (lencten) and the Anglo-Saxon name for March – lenct –because Lent usually runs through the month of March as it does this year. Here’s another example of the Christian faith borrowing from other traditions since its beginnings to help make worship more familiar to the people.
From the earliest days of the Church it’s been the time to prepare for Easter, when those early Christians reaffirmed their commitment to Christ and those preparing to become Christians received instruction for Baptism.
Of course, it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to know that “40” figures prominently throughout scripture: Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai before receiving the ten commandments, the flood in the days of Noah lasted 40 days, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the Evil One and preparing to begin his public ministry and so on.
SHROVE TUESDAY: In many places around the world, the last day before Lent (known variously as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Carnivale) is celebrated as a last fling before the solemn days of Lent. Carnival is the common name for the celebration of Shrove Tuesday because Christian people were expected “give up” meat during Lent and the term carnivaleis Latin for “farewell to meat.”
ASH WEDNESDAY: Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, the day when the ashes from the burned palms from last Palm Sunday are used to place a mark of the cross on our foreheads. As it says in the Bible, from dust we came and to dust we shall return.
PALM or PASSION SUNDAY: Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. People stood along the road and waved palms as he passed by.
MAUNDY (or HOLY) THURSDAY: Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his 12 disciples (apostles). After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray for strength to endure his upcoming suffering and crucifixion.
GOOD FRIDAY: Christian tradition says that Jesus was hung on the cross at noon on Good Friday and died at 3 pm, as the world turned dark as night. Churches often hold a vigil during this three-hour period.
As we mark the last 40 days of Jesus' journey to the cross, let’s use this Lenten Season to look at our own lives and move forward in love and service as we prepare to celebrate the new life sealed forever by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
– Pr. Mary Konopka