Why Do We Have “Lent”?

On February 22nd, we will begin our season of Lent for 2012.  Lent is a time of preparation to help us prepare for the celebration of the Easter Triduum. 

Lent has origins in a retreat period for the catechumens in the early church who were preparing for Baptism at Easter.  While they had spent months (even years) learning about our Catholic faith, this retreat period was a time of more intensive and immediate study.  The church began to realize that we all need to reflect on our lives.  We can (and should) do this throughout the year. 

Yet, realizing that Easter is the most important celebration of the liturgical year, it is an especially fitting time to reflect on our sins and faults.  Thus, Lent is a penitential time.

During Lent we are expected to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays in Lent.   This is meant to be a sacrifice to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross on Good Friday.  If you have to love fish, it isn’t much of a sacrifice but for people like me, not eating meat is definitely a sacrifice, although be it nothing compared to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.  (We don’t actually have to eat fish on the Fridays of Lent.  The rule says we cannot eat meat.  So meatless pasta, casseroles, and any vegetarian dishes are options .)

Throughout Lent, we are called to make some sort of sacrifice.  Traditionally, this has meant giving up something we like.  Since it is something we like, it is a sacrifice to give it up, saying God is more important.  For most people, as soon as Lent is over, they go right back to enjoying what they have given up.

I suggest two alternative possibilities.  First, do you have a bad habitat such as smoking that you would like to quit?  Why not start with Lent?  Make it your Lenten sacrifice and ask for God’s grace to quit permanently.

The second possibility is to spend extra time in prayer, attending Mass, or helping those in need.  The sacrifice is giving up the time from something else you like to do.  Hopefully, the extra time spent in prayer and helping others might become a permanent practice.

It all begins with Ash Wednesday.  Abraham  says “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!” (Genesis 18:27).  As Abraham sees, ashes are a sign of humility.  Originally the ashes came from the burnt offerings from the sacrifices made in atonement for sin.  Because of the association with the burnt offerings, ashes are a sign of repentance as we read in Judith 4:11, “And all the Israelite men, women and children who lived in Jerusalem prostrated themselves in front of the temple building, with ashes strewn on their heads, displaying their sackcloth covering before the Lord.”

May we repent of our sins and always seek to turn our hearts to God!


Fr. Jeff

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