Understanding and Explaining Lent and Holy Days

As a fairly young Christian who devoted his life to Christ only two years ago, I have become intrigued by many Christian observations and traditions, both past and present.

One such tradition that I have recently researched is the forty-day period before Easter that is commonly referred to as Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday each year for many Christians and is a period of soul-searching and repentance.
Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Christian church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days.

Many congregations skip counting Sundays when adding up the 40-day total to commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus and many other denominations celebrate their version of Lent at slightly different times.

For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat.

Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than it is today. Meat, fish, eggs and milk products were strictly forbidden, and only one meal was taken each day. Today, in the West, the practice is considerably more relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Catholic Oriental Churches abstinence from the above mentioned food products is still commonly practiced.

Fasting during Lent is a way for Christians to identify with Jesus in his suffering which, according to the record in the New Testament Biblical writings known as the Gospels, he underwent for the sake ofall humans.

Many modern Christians consider the observation of Lent to be a choice, rather than an obligation. They may decide to give up a favorite food or activity for Lent or they may instead decide to take on a Lenten discipline such as volunteering for charity work.

One of the other things I have learned is that there are also several holy days within the season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in western Christianity. Clean Monday (Ash Monday) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The fourth Sunday within Lent, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics. The Sunday following is also known as Passion Sunday for traditional Catholics, though the latter term is also applied to the sixth and last Sunday of Lent, or Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, which is the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter. The Thursday of Holy Week, is known as Maundy Thursday, which is a day Christians commemorate the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus with his disciples. Good Friday follows the next day, in which Christians remember Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with an Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday.

So, although the church that I attend doesn’t have any specific rules governing the Lenten season, I have pesonally taken it upon myself to try and imitate Jesus Christ – and not just during the season of Lent either – but for all of my remaining days.

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