Lent: a Season of Penitence and Prayer


Lenten Journey 3

As an Anglican, I follow a Church liturgical calendar, celebrating each of its many seasons.  Very soon the season of Lent will be upon us.  Lent this year is the period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday (March 6th) to Easter Sunday, commemorating Christ’s 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His final journey to Jerusalem, where He was crucified, and His last hours with His disciples before His crucifixion. For believers, it is a period of penitence and alms giving. On Ash Wednesday, many Christians have their foreheads marked with ashes in the sign of the cross.  The ashes are often collected from burning the palm fronds used in the celebration of Psalm Sunday.

The Catholic and Anglican traditions regarding Lent are very similar.  In the Anglican tradition, which I practice, Lent is sometimes called the Paschal season (relating to Passover or Easter). It is a preparation time intimately connected to the most important Festival of the Church year, Easter, which marks Christ’s resurrection from the dead and His victor over sin and death. In celebration of the so-called Easter Triduum, Christians commemorates the passion (suffering), death, and resurrection of Jesus and thus the origin of the all Christian belief and the source of our faith and salvation. So, as Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, Anglicans prepare for 40 days for the encounter with Him in the Easter celebration. Traditionally, the Easter season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, a day we recall Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and having his last meal with them before his crucifixion.  Maundy Thursday reminds believers of their hunger for God by refraining from food and intensifying one’s prayer life and charitable giving. 

In the Orthodox tradition, Lent is an invitation to learn the salvation story  by studying the death and the resurrection of Christ. It is an exercise in which believers partake of suffering and resurrection of the Lord. The cross and resurrection are daily realities: we die every day in all trials of life with Christ, but we experience our resurrection every day when we unite with him in faith and prayer. It is important in the Orthodox tradition to recognize that the cross is symbolic of the resurrection, not death. Fasting during Lent is an exercise of self-restraint, by which believers overcome their physical passions and win true freedom. It helps us to the internalization, especially when we pray. The believers should fast and avoid meat. They should intensify their prayer life and dig deeper into the scriptures than usual.  On Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, many Orthodox churches celebrate an evening service called “liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts”. During these services, no elements are sanctified for the Holy Eucharist.  Instead, the bread and wine sanctified on the precious Sunday are used.  On these days, many Orthodox believers fast until evening.

Protestant denominations observe Lent in a wide variety of ways. Sadly, many traditional Protestant denominations barely observe Lent or the Church Calendar at all.  However, for some, fasting during Lent is a time for reflecting on the essentials of Christianity. The original purpose is to prepare one’s self internally for the coming of Easter. Many Protestants avoid certain things during Lent in a quest to learn the true necessities in life. They may deprive themselves of dependency-related risks such as alcohol, chocolate and other sweets, and even the consumption of social media. The Lenten season is a good time to reorder one’s life—restacking priorities.  

For those readers who have no set way of observing Lent, I urge you to consider adopting a Lenten tradition.  One simple way to begin is to read a daily Lenten devotion.  There are many available on the web, but my favorite is published by Lutheran Hour Ministries.  Beginning March 6 you will be able to find the devotions at this link:  https://www.lhm.org/lent/.

“…special (church) holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.” 
         ― Brian D. McLaren,  Finding our Way Again: The Return of Ancient Practices

 

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Susan on February 26, 2019 at 10:33 pm

    Asi is usual, Zack forms his posting with research and deep thought. Thank you.

    Reply

  2. […] the day before Easter.  I blogged about this very special church season in February last year  (https://divinesimplicity.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/lent-a-season-of-penitence-and-prayer/). […]

    Reply

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