No more candy. No more soft drinks. No more Facebook. No more meat.
These aren’t reminders of extreme New Year’s resolutions. These are just a few of the things some people will be sacrificing for Lent this year.
Lent, a time of preparation for Easter in many Christian traditions, began yesterday on Ash Wednesday. It concludes during Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday.
Lent traditionally encompasses the forty days before Easter, but that count does not include Sundays.
Lent is characterized by fasting, and fasting is forbidden in some faiths on Sunday because, as Fr. Eamon Miley, pastor of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Troy explains, “Sundays are resurrection times.”
Forty is a special number throughout Biblical tradition. Noah and his family braved floodwaters for forty days and forty nights. Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Before the first Easter, Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days, Miley said.
“We follow the master himself,” Miley said. “The Holy Spirit lead him into the desert to prepare for his journey.”
And that is exactly how many people see Lent—as a journey.
Many of the faithful follow the example of these Biblical greats during Lent. “It is a time of repentance and renewal,” said Rev. David McVay, the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Troy. “It is a time when we are invited to follow Christ in self-denial.
“We specifically recall Christ’s journey to Jerusalem, the challenges faced there and of course the crucifixion.”
Although many churches offer special services and events throughout the Lenten season, there is an emphasis on personal reflection.
There are many ways to celebrate Lent, and most people are familiar with the tradition of giving something up, or fasting.
It doesn’t have to involve giving something up, however. “What about adding something new?” McVay suggested.
He, for example, is focusing on his devotional and prayer life. “I’ll also try to personalize my expressions of gratitude. That’s something associated with Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it should be done now, too.”
“There are three main areas in which you can celebrate Lent,” Miley added. “Prayer, fasting and almsgiving.”
Although not every faith celebrates Lent, it can be a time to make a personal commitment to God. “The preparation during Lent makes Holy Week and Easter more meaningful,” McVay said.
Because Lent and the Easter mystery are associated with renewal, Lent can be the perfect time for someone to return to or begin a life with God, pastors agreed.
“You may only know a little about God or Lent,” McVay said. “And now is a great time to learn about the faith.”
“Hopefully, it will be easy to find someone at a church you can talk to or ask questions.”
“In the old church, Lent was the time when those preparing for Baptism officially entered the Church,” Miley said. “Those outside the church were brought back in.”
Even now, Lent is still a popular time for many to renew their Baptismal promises to God.
Though not everyone is familiar with Lent, nearly everyone living near or around Mobile or New Orleans likely knows about Mardi Gras, or as translated, Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras is a day not of fasting, but of feasting.
“We know Lent will be rigorous, so we have a day to celebrate beforehand,” Miley said.
After Mardi Gras, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. “We burn the palms from Palm Sunday of last year, then we mark ourselves with the ashes,” Miley said.
“Remember, man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The season of Lent is sometimes compared to the natural seasons. “Winter is a time of death, but we know springtime is coming with life,” Miley said. “We remember our death during Lent, but with Easter comes resurrection.”