I invite you to join me on this journey of prayer, humility, obedience and sacrifice. Please use the comments below to ask any questions you might have and I will do my best to find resources to answer them to the best of my ability. Please note that Lent is not just a Holy Time for Catholics but for all Christians, even though it is celebrated differently in almost all faith denominations.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. Catholics do not consider it a Holy Day of Obligation but they are encouraged to go to mass to be adored with ashes on their foreheads. The ashes signify the ashes that we come from and the ashes to which we will one day return. The ashes also represent the need for penance and the need to repent for the sins that separate us from Christ. This is the start of 40 days of sacrifice, fasting and prayer. The ashes come from the burnt palms handed out during the previous year's Palm Sunday (see the explanation of Palm Sunday below). If you're interested in learning more about the significance of the ashes used on Ash Wednesday this is a great resource.
Each Friday throughout Lent we are called to abstain from meat. Again, seafood is fine. Most Catholic Churches hold fish fries during Lent and it's a great way to get to know others in the church community. If you are interested in exploring a new church or if you're making your way back to the Catholic faith this is a great place to start.
I would go into a lengthy explanation as to why we are called to remove meat from our diets for the six Fridays of Lent, but this article by Fr. Mike Schmitz just does it so much better. Here is a brief excerpt, "The heart of holiness is love, and the way we express our love is through obedience. Abstaining from meat won't make a person closer to God. But having a posture of obedience to the Church that Christ established will."
The Significance of Purple
Colors hold great significance in the Catholic Church. During the season of Lent, the church, and its celebrants are adorned with purple garments. Purple signifies penance, humility, and melancholy.
As part of the Catholic tradition, we fast during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, having two small meals and one normal sized meal. The two small meals should not equal the size of the larger. We are also called to abstain from eating meat, but seafood is allowed. The fasting is meant to be a prayerful reminder of the sacrifice Christ made for us and to redeem us of our own sins. During the moments of hunger we are called to prayer. At mass today, the priest said something along the lines of, "When our bodies are hungry they are weak but our spirit is strong." For more information on fasting and abstinence, you can check out this site.
Catholics and non-Catholics are often most familiar with the practice of "giving something up" during Lent. Be it chocolate, cursing or alcohol, this practice is a form of fasting and helps the person convert their hearts to be closer to God. Lent is a period of self-examination and conversion so that we can be more Christ-like in our daily lives. It's not always about giving something up however, sometimes it's about adding things to our lives that will bring us close to Christ. For example, this Lenten season I will be participating in a prayerful devotional called "Best Lent Ever." If you're interested in joining me you can sign up here.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and it's the final Sunday of Lent. It is a day when Catholics celebrate Christ's return to Jerusalem and palm fronds are blessed and distributed at mass. The fronds represent the celebration held in Jesus's honor as he entered the city. This occasion is also symbolized by the color red which represents The Passion, blood, and God's Love to name a couple things.
I'll be doing another post on the symbolism and traditions of Holy Week in Catholicism as we get closer to celebrating The Passion.