Each year Christians embark on spiritual journeys that culminate with Easter celebrations.
Easter is preceded by a period of six weeks that begins on Ash Wednesday in Western churches and ends the Thursday before Easter Sunday. In Eastern churches only, Lent begins on the Monday of the seventh week before Easter and ends on the Friday nine days before Easter.
During Lent, some Christians participate in fasting, repentance, self-denial, spiritual discipline and other preparations for Easter. According to the resource Learn Religions, the Lenten season was established to serve as a time for reflection on Jesus Christ, particularly to be more aware of His suffering and sacrifice.
On Ash Wednesday, some Christians mark their foreheads with ashes made from palm fronds, as symbols of sorrow and mourning for their sins.
Periods of fasting and abstinence also are part of Lenten observances. The fasting likely serves as an imitation of Jesus Christ’s fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights before beginning his public ministry.
During that time, Christ was tempted by Satan and wrestled with temptation.
During Lent, individuals also prepare simple meals and avoid ingredients that would be considered luxurious. In accordance with that, Fridays during Lent are set aside as meat-free (including poultry) since meat long has been considered an indulgence.
Furthermore, people often “give up” something they enjoy, whether it’s sweets, alcohol or celebratory behaviors. For some, Sundays throughout Lent are excluded from the fasting and abstinence requirements because they are times to enjoy Mass, which is a celebration. Therefore, if one gave up chocolate for Lent, he or she can enjoy it on Sunday.
Lent is supposed to be a time of repentance, but not shame. Instead, sinners seek cleansing from their sins and contemplate what the Lord did when He sacrificed Himself on the cross.
Protestants also take part in Lent, but Catholic churches are particularly associated with the more well-known Lenten requirements.
Parishioners may notice that Mass is different during Lent. The Gloria, a prayer normally used after the penitential rite near the beginning of the service, is omitted. Furthermore, suppression of the word “Alleluia” also occurs, and any hymns containing the word “Alleluia” are avoided.
In 2023, among Western churches, Lent begins on Wednesday, Feb. 22 and ends on Thursday, April 6. Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, April 9.