“Remember that you are but dust. From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” These powerful words accompanied the ashing on Ash Wednesday, and the start of the Lenten season. Lent is a Teutonic word that recognizes the 40-day preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. The first occurrence of this tradition can be seen as early back as the 5th century, when fathers of the apostolic institution supported the view. However, back then the holiday was only observed for two to three day.
According to Ted Olson, author of “The Beginning of Lent,” lent is a time of “self-examination and patience demonstrated by self-denial.” It is a season for reflection, which is supposed to imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for 40 days.
Up until the 600s, Lent started on a Sunday. It was moved to Wednesday, now known as Ash Wednesday, by Gregory the Great. On Ash Wednesdays priests and ministers draw a cross made of ash on Catholic’s foreheads, which stays on until sundown. Religious leaders remind the practicing Catholics that they are created from dust and to dust they shall return, which is what the ash represents.
On every Friday during the Lent period, as well as Ash Wednesday, Roman Catholics may consume no meat. “Carnival” is a Latin word that is translated to “farewell meat,” appropriately named for the last Tuesday before Lent. On this past Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, Christians might have eaten everything in the house that was looked at as “inappropriate” to eat during Lent. Food such as eggs, meat, butter, and cream were eaten in celebration.
According to the Code of Canon Law, Catholics believe they should practice abstaining from meat on every Friday in the calendar year plus days such as Ash Wednesday. In 1966 the U.S. Bishops decided to change it to abstaining only on specific days.
In the Christian religion there are two churches, the Western and the Eastern, which celebrate Lent in different ways. The Western Church, which consists of Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans, skips over Sundays when calculating the 40 day length of Lent. They believe that since Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead that it is a day of celebration, not fasting. In this church Lent always starts on the seventh Wednesday before Easter, also known as Ash Wednesday.
The Eastern Church, which consists of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the eastern-rite churches that are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, does things differently. They choose not to skip over Sundays when calculating Lent. Therefore, Lent begins on “Clean Monday,” which is the seventh Monday before Easter.
Lent is traditionally a time when one has to give something up. However, on a deeper inspection of the holiday, many see it as a way of connecting with the suffering of Jesus. An individual may see that giving up one of his or her favorite things for a period of 40 days is not as bad as the suffering and pain that Jesus went through.
The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week. It is when Jesus is followed from Palm Sunday, the day he rode into Jerusalem as King, to his death on Good Friday, and then his rising from the dead on Easter Sunday. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox.
The Newman Center, 409 Trinity Drive in West Chester, holds daily mass on Monday thru Thursday at 4:20 p.m., and Sundays at 5:30 and 9:00 p.m. for all interested.