Lent for Christians is the time of spiritual preparation, just as Advent is for Christmas, Lent precedes the Easter. It is a 40-day penitential period of fasting and praying and is observed since the 4th century and mostly by the Roman Catholic church and similar forms of Christianity. The bible tells us that there is no resurrection without the Cross, and Lent relates to the 40 days Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness to pray and fast according to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, before starting his public ministry, during which he endured Satan’s temptations. These 40 days precedes to the episodes of his arrest and torture, leading to his crucifixion and death, and later his resurrection and eventual ascension to Heaven. Observance of Lent by the Western churches begins six and half weeks prior to Easter on Ash Wednesday and are excluded on Sundays. In the Eastern churches, the period extended 7 weeks because they excluded both Saturdays and Sundays. Though not obligatory, people are encouraged to attend the Ash Wednesday mass to receive the ashes on the forehead. The Mozarabic and Ambrosian Rite has no Ash Wednesday. Lent begins on the first Sunday and the fast starts on the first Monday.
In Lent, Christians perform fasting. Some commit to fasting outside obligatory times as well as giving up certain luxuries and vices like alcohol and cigarettes in order to imitate the sacrifice of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, read scriptures, daily rosary and confessions are also practiced. The abstinence from the consumption of meat, notably among Roman Catholics is one of the adherent traditions of the Lenten season. Also, as a form of penance, and even outside of Lent, on all Fridays, abstinence is compulsory. Many devotees practice a Lenten spiritual discipline. This includes reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar and confessions. Christians venerate and observe the Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Jesus Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution. In solemn observance of the Lenten season, many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in purple fabrics. To show that it is a special time of penance and mourning, the liturgical color for Lent is purple.
In earlier times, full fasting was advocated; only one full meal a day. Meat, fish, especially eggs and milk products were prohibited having believed to give greater pleasure and nourishment to the human body. In the present day, however, only meat is forbidden, a full meal is allowed to be taken at any hour followed by two collations or smaller meals but not equivalent to one full meal. Prayers, acts of clemency, assisting those in need and almsgiving are also emphasized.
“Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.” –Pope Benedict XVI
During the Holy Week, street processions are celebrated and in some Catholic countries, these parades are sometimes associated with mortification of the flesh. Palm Sunday marks the start of the Holy Week. The Wednesday of the Holy Week (Holy Wednesday) commemorates Judas Iscariot’s betrayal when he sold Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. Lent ends on Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday) which Christians commemorate Jesus’ own suffering and death through the solemn meal of the New Covenant, the Communion or Eucharist which Jesus shared as his Last Supper with the Apostles. Holy Thursday is also the start of the Easter Triduum. Good Friday is the day of crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ. The Eastern Vigil is done at sundown of Black Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. (The name Easter is derived from the pagan spring festival of Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess. Many customs associated with it like Easter eggs are of pagan origin) The Christian festival of Easter is celebrated as the day of Resurrection, followed by the commemoration of Christ’s Ascension into Heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the faithful at Pentecost.
The Lenten season is a passage of self-denial, a battle against temptation and renewal of faith. It is one of Christianity’s greatest religious journey, a chance to deepen your spiritual life. Through praying and fasting we reflect upon Christ’s great sacrifice to redeem the world and celebrate his victory over sin and death.