LENT I a season of Repentance, Prayer and Fasting
Lent is a season of repentance, prayer and fasting. The season lasts for 40 days, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter. The season reflects the 40 days Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the desert before starting his public ministry. Lent is also observed by many other Christian denominations.
Lent begins the morning after Madi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras was traditionally a day of reasonable indulgence prior to the beginning of the 40 day period of prayer and fasting.
The morning after is Ash Wednesday, a day when Catholics engage in prayer and fasting and attend Mass to receive ashes on their heads as a sign of penance. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.
Resistance to temptation is an important spiritual exercise, practiced during Lent. Many faithful will make a Lenten sacrifice, giving up something dear for the 40 day period, so they will be capable of filling themselves with Christ instead. In addition to giving something up, others may take on additional responsibilities, chores, or penances.
Fasting is standard practice. In simplest form, Catholics will fast by abstaining from meat on Fridays. Fish is permitted as a substitute. Few people actually skip meals, instead they substitute fish or vegetarian dishes on Fridays for meat dishes. It is common for some to dine in restaurants on Fridays, instead of preparing the meal at home. Restaurants often serve clam chowder and fish on Fridays to cater to Catholics. However, the piety of these events is dubious, since people are making only a marginal sacrifice, and they are not genuinely fasting at all.
Regardless of how a person chooses to keep their Lenten fast, the practice is regarded as highly personal. It is generally inappropriate for others to judge the piety of another’s practice. It is also inappropriate to make a contest of one’s piety.
Sundays are not part of the Lenten fasting period. Instead, Sundays are excepted because they are celebrations of the resurrection of Christ. Each Sunday is a mini Easter. Therefore, it is appropriate for people to partake of whatever they may have given up for the 40 days of Lent. For example, a child that gives up sweets for Lent, may freely partake of them on Sundays during Lent.
Special prayers are offered during Lent. The Stations of the Cross, which follow Christ from his condemnation to his entombment, are practiced as a form of devotion. Some Catholics pray the Sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary instead of the traditional joyful mysteries on Sundays during Lent, but there is no official rule, and Catholics are free to pray whichever mysteries they choose. The colors of Lent are purple, which is the traditional color of penance and mourning, as well as the color of royalty, which symbolizes Christ’s status as our king. The last week of Lent is known as “Holy Week” and it begins with Palm Sunday, one week before Easter. On Palm Sunday, the faithful recreate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, by welcoming him with blessed palms. Often the priest, or a volunteer from the congregation, will play the part of Jesus in a ceremonial procession. On Holy Thursday, the Last Supper is celebrated. On Good Friday, the trial, suffering, and crucifixion of Christ is commemorated. Easter Sunday marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter.