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The Significance of Lent in Christaindom

By: Alex Umoru

Lent is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’ which is observed in the spring. Significantly in the Christaindom, Lent is a fasting period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Roman Catholic calendar and, it normally begins on Ash Wednesday of every year. It is generally a period of reflection and preparation before the Easter celebrations of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion and death on the Cross. Another notable day in the lent period is the Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. It is the day before Lent starts or the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.

A Catholic faithful during Ash Wednesday Mass

Historically, during lent, some Christians do not eat meat and fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods to avoid wasted, a feast of shriving Tuesday is held to eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty (40) days of Lent and this also gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’).  At the Beginning of Lent period is the Ash Wednesday and for the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other churches would hold special services with which worshippers are marked with sign of the cross with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sin on their forehead. The use of ashes, made from burnt palm fants from previous Palm Sunday, is very symbolic especially with the Traditional Ash Wednesday prayer: The priest or minister marks each worshipper on the forehead, and says remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return, or a similar phrase based on God’s sentence on Adam in Genesis 3:19.

Religiously, there are different connotation for keeping the mark as some church denomination leave the mark on their forehead to carry the sign of the cross out into the world while other wash off the ashes as a sign that one has been cleansed of their sins. Symbolically, the words and marking of the forehead with a cross made of ashes during the Lenten season reminds Christians that:

■   Death comes to everyone

■   Reparation of sins

■  They must change themselves for the better

■  God made the first human being by breathing life into dust, and without God, human beings are nothing more than dust and ashes.

■   The cross is a reminder of the mark of the cross made at baptism.

■   The phrase often used when the ashes are administered reminds Christians of the doctrine of original sin.

■ The cross of ashes symbolise the way Christ was sacrificed on the cross as atonement of sin which replaces the Old Testament tradition of making burnt offerings to atone for sin.

Biblically, Christians of the Catholic or Orthodox faith all round the world observe the 40 days Lent to emulate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to descend into the wilderness for 40 days and this is marked by fasting, both from food, drinks and festivities. Most Christian use lenten period for prayer, almsgiving and penance but currently, only a few number of people fast for during Lent, although most people maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is common these days for Christians to surrender a particular vice such as favourite foods, drink, habit or even smoking as a reflection of Jesus deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self­discipline as regarded to be the key event for the Lent duration.

Lent period comes with a lot of fasting and prayers and this prepare Christians to renew their relationship with God and this can be found in the Old Testament and the New, with Moses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:2) all participated in 40- day fasting. Coincidentally, the 40 days duration of the lent period is a significant figure in Christaindom for instance In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain. Also the Israelite spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land and Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and lastly, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his Ministry.

Pope Francis II on a procession during Ash Wednesday celebrations

A lot of symbolism is driven from the Purple decoration used in some churches for drapes and altar frontals during the lenten period. The Purple decoration is mostly used by Catholic or Orthodox Christians is attributed to mourning, pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross. Also, the purple is associated with royalty and to celebrate Jesus resurrection and sovereignty over the world. The adherence to lent by Christian is necessary to curb the excesses of life, spiritual discipline and also by engaging in charity and almsgiving is the important element of the Lenten season help bring to consciousness the suffering and sacrifice of Christ and also the suffering of others. And for those who successfully observed Lent will enter the Easter season with an increased appreciation to God by celebrating the joy of resurrection and eternal life.

Happy Easter

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