The Catholic Church has its own calendar, because why not, in the shape of a circle that corresponds with the Gregorian calendar and the Gospel readings. It is split into six sections, Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time again, Lent, and Easter.
And guess what time it is?
That’s right: Lent! Unless you’ve been hiding away from the rest of civilization you may have noticed that Mardi Gras or Carnival events (originally Christian celebrations) have been occurring around the globe, not to mention McDonald’s and Culver’s have upped their advertising for the enticing fillet-o-fish or fish sandwich. This is all in preparation for Lent.
If you’re not Catholic/Christian or not a practicing Catholic you may be wondering what Lent is and why all your Catholic friends are refusing certain things “because it’s Lent.”
So here’s a break down for you, of what Lent is, the major concepts and the most important days. Be prepared to be schooled, Sunday school style.
This year, Lent begins on March 1 with Ash Wednesday, which we’ll break down later, and ends Thursday, April 13th on Holy Thursday.
Lent, to sum it up is a forty day journey (a popular number in the church) where practitioners prepare themselves for the coming of Christ on Easter Sunday through prayer, penance and repentance of sins etc. Naturally, there are a few ground rules.
One, and this one is a one of the major parts of Lent, is to forgo a certain luxury for the 40 days. Children usually give up candy or they try to be nicer towards their siblings, adults give up any sort of indulgence they might be into like swearing or stopping by Starbucks after work. It doesn’t actually matter what it is so long as they try their best for 40 days. If you must indulge, Sunday is a free pass to do what you want, though this might be aimed more for school children.
Second, on Fridays, they must abstain from meat products, hence why Friday Fish Fry’s exist. Fridays are also popular days to participate in the Stations of the Cross.
And finally, you cannot say or sing the word alleluia or hallelujah, it is considered a word of celebration and can only be uttered on Great Saturday, Lent is a time of reflection, none of this happiness nonsense.
Those are the basics of Lent, here are the major days.
Lent officially begins on Ash Wednesday for Roman Catholics. It is not a Holy Day of Obligation, so you don’t have to go to mass, but the Church asks that you fast and avoid meat products. This is the day when people walk around with black smudges on their forehead, those smudges being ashes. The ashes, which come from old palm leaves, symbolize our existence, and are marked on foreheads with the accompanying phrase or a variation of it, “From dust you came, to dust you will return.”
The next big days all happen in the same week, appropriately named Holy Week, it marks the final week of Lent, and a week of fasting for some people.
The first day is Palm or Passion Sunday. This is the day, you see a bunch of people outside of Church holding palm leaves. It celebrates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem as the people hale him as their King. Everyone is handed a blessed palm to take home and bend into a cross if you’re talented, and the remaining palms are saved and burned to make the ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday.
Monday and Tuesday of this week aren’t anything special in the states. In places like Spain they have processions. This is a highly advisable thing to Google, participants wear special costumes known as nazareno and those strong enough help carry a giant float. A procession usually lasts five hours and is not only a religious event but a cultural one. Other than that though, the next day to attend a service is Holy Wednesday.
The Wednesday of this week is also known as Spy Wednesday, commemorates Judas meeting with the high priests, to plan his betrayal. It often gets grouped in with the service on Holy Thursday also known as Maundy Thursday.
On Thursday, people gather to remember the Last Supper and at some services, 12 people and sometimes even the entire congregation, have their feet washed. It is to symbolize Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. In Western Christianity, Holy Thursday is the first day of the Easter Triduum, the three days to symbolize how long Jesus stayed in the tomb before making an appearance. At this point, Lent is technically over.
Although it could be considered a joyous time, Lent is not over yet.
Then it’s Good Friday, often considered one of the most important celebrations of the church. There is no mass on Good Friday, but rather a service which lasts three hours, and it is a day of fasting. During this time, Christians reflect on the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. At some places, you also touch or kiss a cross. Other services end with everyone making a lot of noise to symbolize the closing of the tomb. Once all the lights are off, everyone exits in silence.
Great Saturday, also known as regular Saturday for everyone else, is the last day of mourning. It concludes with the Easter Vigil, typically beginning at 10 p.m., during which the palm leaves are burned. As a part of the ceremony, everyone is handed an unlit candle and beginning in the back the light makes its way to the front of the church.
Finally, Easter Sunday also known as Resurrection Sunday, at this point Jesus has risen and Lent is officially over! Most people, consider Easter to be the holiest of days of the liturgical year. Everyone sings hallelujah, to praise Jesus and the fact that Lent is over, at least until next year.
So that’s Lent all summed up. Depending on where you live in the word or what religion you practice, your Lenten journey may have some variations to it, like when Palm or Passion Sunday occurs or if Ash Wednesday takes place, in any case, have a good Lent, and enjoy letting everyone know what you can’t do because it’s Lent.