Although it seems as though Christmas was just upon us, we are preparing to enter the season of Lent in the church.
Ash Wednesday will be celebrated Feb. 13 this year. The day marks the beginning of Lent, a forty-day period of time in which we are called upon to prepare ourselves, through penitence and fasting, for Easter, the day of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The word Lent, most scholars agree, was based upon Old English or Teutonic, and merely meant “spring” or “spring season.” However that would not acknowledge the roots of the word.
Lent was an English translation of the Latin quadragesima which is derived from the Greek tessarakoste which means fortieth. The number forty in the Holy Scriptures has a long and distinguished history and one is reminded of forty days of rain during the flood narrative with Noah, Moses fasting on Mount Sinai, the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, Elijah fasting forty days on the way to Mount Horeb or Jesus Christ fasting in the wilderness for forty days after his baptism.
During the era of the very Early Church forty days also meant a time of preparation for those about to be baptized, with the baptism itself occurring on the Easter Vigil.
Over the span of history Lent has had different customs depending upon the time frame, and especially between the Eastern and Western Churches. It has almost always meant that there is a period of fasting involved, although not complete cessation of taking in food for nourishment, it usually meant eating no more than one meal a day, toward evening, which would be a vegetarian meal.
Meat, meat products, fish, milk and egg products were all prohibited and this form of fasting lasted the entire forty days. Over a period of time the fasting aspect was relaxed to a point where people would choose rather to abstain from certain items in their diet or lives to show that they were devoting something from their lives to a religious exercise.
Although Ash Wednesday and Lent are not universally observed through all denominations, and the number of days varies from Western denominations to Eastern Orthodox denominations, the concept of a period of piety, fasting and penitence is universal.
In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer the celebrant during the Ash Wednesday service invites the congregation, “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
Ashes are imposed on the forehead of the parishioner with the following words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I invite you, the reader, to attend an Ash Wednesday service at the church of your choice if you desire to rededicate yourself to your faith, to observe a holy Lent through prayer, fasting, self-examination and repentance in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.