Today is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent for Catholics. Millions of Catholics around the world will go to mass and get a mark on their forehead in the shape of a cross. The ashes that are used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms that were burned on Palm Sunday the year before. They symbolize both death and repentance. When the priest or deacon applies the ashes on the the forehead he says the phrase, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s a way to repent, a theme that carries throughout Lent.
What is Lent?
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry” (Matthew 4:1-2)
Lent is the period of 40 days, plus Sundays, leading up to Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Lent can fall any time between February 4 and March 11 each year depending on when Easter falls. This year, Easter is Sunday, April 21. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is why the date of Easter can vary so widely each year.
During lent Catholics offer sacrifices to God in order to share in his sufferings. He will then turn our sufferings into glory.
We set aside 40 days for lent because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and resisting the devil’s temptations. Because of Jesus’ prayer and fasting he was able to overcome the temptations of the devil. Catholics are taught to pray and fast every day during lent so we can be strengthened against the dangers of this world.
Three Things Catholics are Encouraged to do During Lent
We are taught to set aside extra time for prayer during lent. Jesus prayed while he was being tempted by the devil. Just like Jesus if we pray we too will be able to resist the devil’s temptations. We can not let the devil be in control of our society and world. The devil is doing his evil deeds through our politicians when they pass laws encouraging infanticide and the murder of innocent babies in the womb. He is also tempting us through the glorification of violence and sex in Hollywood movies and television. We need God more than ever. Prayer can help us defeat the devil.
During lent Catholics can attend daily mass or pray the rosary every day. If we don’t have time in our busy schedule for that just saying a few extra prayers a day is good enough.
Catholics are taught to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is when we eat one meal a day and two smaller meals that are equal to one meal when added up. People between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast during lent. The sick are excused from fasting.
Catholics must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during lent. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and foul. Fish is a popular dish for Catholics on Fridays during lent. Many restaurants offer fish frys and seafood specials on Fridays in lent. Cheese, eggs and peanut butter are also acceptable protein sources.
Other Acts of Penance
We are also encouraged to perform other acts of penance during lent. Penance means prayers and good works done to make up for our sins. Almsgiving is a form of penance that many Catholics practice during lent. This is when we donate extra money to the poor or charitable organizations that help the needy. We can also perform good works such as volunteering our time to help others.
Catholics believe that sometimes sacrifice is necessary to achieve what we want in life. Spiritual sacrifices such as prayer, fasting and alsmgiving are necessary for our spiritual needs. Jesus had to die so that he could rise from the dead. Jesus sacrificed his life so that we could have eternal life. When you get your cross of ashes on your forehead today wear it proudly and remember that because of our Lord Savior Jesus you will have eternal life with Him in heaven.