By Joanne Centeno ‘21
Most of us have all, hopefully, had some education on the meaning of Lent. Other than
knowing it begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday, how many of us
really understand Lent? I researched it a bit and found that the word Lent means “a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday.” In this period, we are asked to observe days of fasting and abstinence.
The definition is pretty much what we all probably already knew. So, I decided to go into more detail with what Lent actually means and what is expected of us as practicing Catholics. While we know that Lent lasts 40 days, did you know that it is actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday? Most people I spoke to thought that the duration from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 40 days because truthfully, how many of us would take the time to count calendar days? The breakdown of the 40 days of Lent is that 46 days total, minus the 6 Sundays in Lent is equal to 40 days. On Sundays, we are not asked to fast or abstain. So it is not counted in our Lenten observance.
Another aspect of Lent that may not be clear to some is the period of time between Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday where we begin what is known as the Triduum. Triduum is a Latin word meaning “three days.” We are in a period of sadness after Jesus is crucified on Good Friday. We are preparing for Easter Sunday when Jesus rises from the dead. In this time, we are asked to (but not required) to come to the Mass and participate in our parish services.
On Holy Thursday, the Mass includes the washing of the feet of usually 12 parishioners. This is to remember how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples the last time he ate with them. On Good Friday, we come to a service where the Gospel is the Passion. The Passion is the story of Jesus being crucified. It is the most solemn day of our Catholic Church. On Holy Saturday, there is no Mass until the Easter Vigil at night.
Throughout Lent, many of us give up things we like or try to be kinder to people. On Fridays during Lent, we don’t eat meat. It is called abstinence. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are asked to fast. This means we only eat one basic meal. We are not to eat food throughout the day other than that one meal.
Another common mistake is that some believe that we are required to come to Mass on Ash Wednesday. It is not a holy day of obligation. We are not required to receive ashes on our foreheads either. It is optional, but encouraged.