What is Lent?
The word “lent” is derived from an old English word for the season of “spring.” (The old German word for spring is “lenz,” And the Dutch word is “lente.”) It is a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) prior to Easter that begins on “Ash Wednesday.” By observing Lent, a Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days, and through self-denial, fasting and prayer draws closer to God.
What is the history of Lent?
The observance of a special time of penitence (sorrow for one’s sins), fasting and prayer goes back to the early centuries of the Church. By the 4th century a 40-day period of self-examination, self-denial, prayer and fasting was firmly established as a preparation for the celebration of Easter. It was a time during which new converts—through study and prayer—were prepared for the Sacrament of Baptism. It was also a time when those who had been separated from the church were, by penitence and forgiveness, restored to the fellowship of the church. This reminded all Christians of Christ’s message of forgiveness and reconciling love, and of the need that we all continually have to turn from our sins and renew our faith.
Why should we participate in or celebrate Lent?
The observance of Lent, like the observance of many of the Christian holy days, is important for at least a couple of reasons: 1) It reminds us of the great teachings and historical events important to our understanding of the Christian faith, and 2) It serves as a spiritual discipline to help us grow in our faith and commitment to Christ and his Church, as we reflect on the meaning of our faith and draw closer to God in prayer and worship.
What can I do during Lent?
Some of the ways in which we can observe Lent include attending the Ash Wednesday service, practicing daily Scripture readings with meditations that focus on the themes of Lent, observing daily quiet times for prayer and meditation, practicing self-denial by through various kinds of fasts. While Lent is about giving something up (e.g., through fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor (almsgiving) and doing acts of charity and mercy. It’s a good time to examine ways in which we might get more involved. Giving alms can be done in more ways than just giving out money to people on the street. It can be done by helping your family, friends, and neighbors out of difficult situations, by being more generous to my siblings, by donating my blood to the local Blood Bank, by volunteering at a homeless shelter, attending mid-week worship services and so on…the list is endless.
Why does Lent matter?
Like so many of the “seasons” and holy days of the Christian calendar that we observe (Easter, Christmas, Good Friday, etc), it is a way to remind us and teach us about the important beliefs and events in our Christian faith. To maintain a strong and vibrant faith it’s important to keep and practice certain spiritual rhythms (like Sunday worship, daily devotions, etc). It also serves to remind us that our faith is rooted in history and that we are connected with believers past, present and future. The importance of Lent is well summarized in the opening prayer that we read on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent:
I invite you therefore, 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. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our moral nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our Maker and Redeemer.
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