Lent began this past Wednesday – Ash Wednesday. The ashes donned by Christians that day are produced by burning the prior years’ Palms, presented on Palm Sunday. As ashes are received, they are accompanied by the recitation of, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
An inspiring friend of mine once gave up English for Lent. We were both studying abroad in Spain at the time, and over email we had been chatting about the upcoming season of Lent. For me, it was the usual ticket items being debated – coffee, sweets, etc. For her it was her entire first language … for 40 days. At times, I remember she was frustrated and by Easter she was completely exhausted. As a result, her Spanish proficiency improved drastically. That wasn’t, however, the purpose. What, exactly, is the point of sacrificing throughout Lent?
During Lent Christians are called to the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation – or repentance and absolution of sins. At the same time, we are challenged to examine our lives in an effort to become more like Jesus. The following three pillars of Lent serve as a guide to do just that.
- alms-giving (charity)
Fasting, specifically, is a means of creating space in our life to invite God in. Whatever void we recognize as a result of our fast can be met and filled abundantly by Him. Forty days of fasting during Lent is a parallel to the forty days Jesus spent tempted in the desert, without food or water.
From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, however, is forty-six days. The reason for the six day discrepancy is because Sundays during Lent are not considered fast days. Growing up on my high horse I always thought my dad was “cheating” on Sundays. Turns out, he wasn’t. In fact, fasting on Sundays during Lent is prohibited because they are treated as celebration days for the resurrection of Jesus. Whoops.
For all you algebra buffs…
Ash Wed + (Thurs,Fri,Sat) + (7 days x 6 weeks) – 6 Sundays = 40 days
Here’s where is gets a little more confusing. According to the Catholic Church, Lent officially ends on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are known as the “Triduum.” So if Lent is over, why not stop fasting on Holy Thursday – or at 37 days? As it turns out these final three days might just be the most important of all. They are the final hours spent in preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus.