What is Lent?
Lent is the liturgical season which runs from Ash Wednesday up to, but not including The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The forty days of Lent are a time of penance in preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection at Easter.
The forty days have their biblical significance from the forty days our Lord fasted, the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, Elijah’s forty day journey to Mount Horeb, and Jonah’s preaching of repentance to the Nenevites.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes made from burning the palms from the previous years’ Palm Sunday celebration, are blessed and put on the heads of the faithful as a sign of their conversion and penance. When imposing the ashes, the priest or deacon says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” The other traditional practices of Lent to assist conversion are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. To the great surprise of many people, Ash Wednesday is not a Holy day of Obligation. Never the less it is an important day that helps us get into the proper state of mind to enter into the spiritual battle of Lent. Everyone is encouraged, but not obliged, to attend Mass if they can. Everyone who attends Ash Wednesday may receive the ashes.
As a unified sign of sacrifice the faithful are to abstain from eating meat on Friday’s of Lent. The significance of this act is that Christ sacrificed His flesh for our salvation on Good Friday, therefore, the only flesh we consume on Friday’s of Lent is His Body in Holy Communion. Fish is an exception because of its symbolic reference to Christ.
There are two days on which the faithful are specifically asked to fast, these are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. For those in good health who are at least 16 and not older than 65, a fast means eating only one full meal in a day, while some additional amount of food may be taken if necessary to maintain strength throughout the day, it should not be equal to another meal.
One of the most moving and beloved devotions of Lent is the meditation on the Passion of Christ which we call the Stations of the Cross. This devotion takes place in the church where 14 different episodes of Our Lord’s Passion are represented. We move from one “station” to the next stopping to reflect on what Jesus suffered for the sake of our salvation. When we sincerely enter into the Lenten season, we find an unbelievable amount of joy and thanksgiving in the Resurrection of Christ which we celebrate for fifty days in the Season of Easter.
Fr. Matthew Keller