First, I grew up in a large parish in Omaha, Nebraska, and traditions were an important part of learning about our journey toward finding God. Those traditions were part of our parish, Saint Pius X, and our Catholic schools.
This was certainly never truer then when it came time to celebrate Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and the forty days of prayer and sacrifice we were encouraged to participate in, including participating in the traditional services during Holy Week, and then the last important event: ending with the joyous celebration of Mass on Easter Sunday. Holy Trinity Catholic Church embraces this same enthusiasm with this important part of church tradition as I remember growing up in Nebraska.
We know the Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday starting March 6, 2019. I read a blog recently that said “Lenten practices are not in the Bible so why do Catholics participate in these rituals that are likely derived from paganist backgrounds?” Hmmm? Denigration of Catholics surrounding Lent seems to stem from the idea that Lent is not officially instituted in Scripture so therefore it must be rooted in pagan traditions. Obviously I do challenge this criticism with gusto, but maybe having a better understanding behind the meaning of Lent will help answer these criticisms.
Lent is the time in the Church calendar that commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert. In Luke 4:1–13 and Matthew 4:1–11, there are three temptations within or at the end of the 40 days; Matthew, Luke, and Mark make clear that the Spirit has led Jesus into the desert. Hmmm. (Sounds like the Bible being referenced here to me!)
The number 40 is significant throughout the Bible but it culminates with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry facing temptations that could take Him from His mission and calling. As Catholics and Christians we use the Lenten season for introspection, self-examination, and repentance.
In the Lord’s Prayer, the clause “Lead us not into temptation” is a humble, trusting petition for God’s help to enable us to overcome temptation when at the same time God allows us to experience the allurements of evil so we can use prayer and watchfulness as our chief weapons against temptation. (Wikipedia – Lent)
Apparently, we learned about this fight from temptation from Jesus. Seems like another good reason for the idea behind Lent.
On Ash Wednesday, for example, we mark our foreheads with ash symbolizing sorrow and mourning over sin. Mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.
Often times during Lent, we will give up a habit or a specific behavior during Lent as a prayerful exercise in self-denial. This could be as simple as giving up swearing, drinking, smoking, or even chocolate or it could be as rigorous as fasting.
There are several devotional activities offered during Lent, including daily Scripture readings (from the Bible), regular daily prayers for a specific person we know suffering during Lent, Stations of the Cross, or even participating in volunteer work. There are specific traditions followed during Holy Week that are all prayerful preparations for recognizing Christ’s suffering and Crucifixion. Observing Lent is personal in how you choose to participate.
Whether we choose to observe Lent in a small way or participate in all the prayer-filled options, it is amazing what happens when we devote time to reflect on Jesus Christ’s suffering and his Word during Lent.
I say, “Lent! Bring it on, my fellow Catholics and Christians.” It will be worth the investment of time to remind us all why Easter is to be celebrated.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)
Copyright 2019 Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh