Lent begins with Ash Wednesday

Published 9:23 am Monday, March 7, 2011

Lent. It’s a word that everyone has heard of, but just how much is known of the season of Lent which will begin this coming week.

Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘lenten’ which means the time of the year when days grow long.

The season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is traditionally a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) in which worshippers give up something important to them as a way of showing their willingness to sacrifice during the days leading to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

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In the early days, people observed the tradition of fasting or eating no

meat on Friday. That is still observed in some churches while in others the traditions have changed.

The time of Lent begins with Shrove Tuesday, which begins a time of prayer and confession. It is during the days leading up to the quietness and soberness of Lent that some people celebrate, such as Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the last time of outward frivolity before settling down to a more serious and somber time to show reverence to the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Father Gordon Milsted, of Saint Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church in Atmore, said that in the beginning, Lent was a time of instruction for new Christians.

“The 40 days during Lent were to represent the 40 days and nights when Christ was in the desert,” said Father Milsted. “It was meant to be for anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 to use for personal devotion and sacrifice. The people in the church once fasted as a way of sacrifice and many still do. Many still eat no meat on Friday.”

Father Milsted said that the church will observe the ‘Stations of the Cross’ during Lent and have special services throughout the 40 days. On Thursday before Good Friday, there will be a communion service.

In pre-Reformation England, the altars were stripped of all hangings and the priests’ vestments were suggestive of sackcloth. Altarpieces and pictures were draped in this material. In addition, some churches today replace silver or brass candlesticks with wooden or stone ones. Flowers are not placed on the altar during Lent and often any crosses or crucifixes are often draped during Lent.

Most Protestant churches that celebrate Lent do not have these requirements. However, when we ‘give something up’ for Lent, we are embracing a form of fasting. Some people choose to give up sinful habits for Lent. In this way, Lent represents a spiritual training time to overcome evil.