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Lent: what it is and why we celebrate it

Seth Sinclair, Staff Reporter

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Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. It’s a time of reflection and penitence in recognition of the sacrifice Christ made for us through his suffering, dying, and rising from the dead. Lasting approximately forty-two days, Lent has traditionally been a Roman Catholic practice, but has spread into the Protestant and more evangelical denominations, begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.

The purpose of Lent is to prepare believers through prayer, repentance of sins, and self-denial. Christians participating in Lent give up certain luxuries or fast. Some Christians also read a daily devotional or pray according to a Lenten calendar (a Lenten calendar is a special calendar counting the days of Lent until Easter), in order to draw closer to God spiritually. Lent marks the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now, to some facts and figures. According to a survey conducted by LifeWay Research, 76% of Americans do not observe Lent. That’s a lot of Americans. The organization states that the primary reason why most Americans fail to observe Lent is because it involves giving up pleasures. The study found that Catholics were the most likely to take Lent seriously at 61%; Evangelicals at 28%; and Protestants with the lowest turnout at 20%.

Now, onto the origins of Lent. Early church father Irenaeus of Lyons came up with the idea of such a season, but in that time it only lasted for a few days. At the Council of Nicea (325 AD), church leaders discussed, among other topics, a season of fasting not unlike Lent. Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) moved Lent to what we call Ash Wednesday. Gregory is credited with creating the ceremony where Lent gets its name from. He would mark churchgoers’ foreheads with ash to symbolize repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and man’s mortality: “…;for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19; NIV). By the time the 800s and 1400s came along, the rules for Lent were relaxing. In 1966, the Roman Catholic Church allowed fish to be eaten (previously meats and animal products were restricted) and fasting only from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church still maintains strict rules on Lent.

Just because Lent is historically a Roman Catholic tradition, many Protestant Christians still observe it. Lent is a time of prayer and sacrifice to God. Christians take Lent as an opportunity to prepare their hearts for Easter, the day Jesus defeated death and rose to life.        


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Lent: what it is and why we celebrate it