What is Lent?
Lent is fast approaching and many Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate this special penitential occasion with reverence and fasting once again.
However, although many people go through the motions of observing this solemn season each year, many still do not know just what makes this occasion so important to the church. For many Christians the first thing that comes to mind about Lent is that it is the season for giving up some bad habit for 40 long days and nights. But according to Father Hugh Bartlett Jr., parish priest at Saint Anne’s Anglican Church, this is by far not the real reason for this special season.
“Lent is the season in which the faithful are encouraged to give more fervent attention to penitential exercises,”said the priest.”Practices such as receiving ashes on the forehead, fasting and reflections are all notable Lenten observances.”
Bartlett said that the fixed period of six weeks of Lent dates back to about the fifth century(A.D.). However, Christians of the Anglican tradition understand Lent as a period likened to Jesus’wilderness experience. The priest noted that Sundays in Lent are not observed as fast days which means that there are actually forty five days that make up the season.”
Father Bartlett encouraged people to view the Lenten tradition as a period for real spiritual growth, which takes place when we learn to give up those bad habits for life.
“Year after Year the Church seeks to preach the Gospel through its observance of biblical teachings through the different seasons such as Christmas and Epiphany,”said the priest.”During Lent special emphasis is placed on repentance, but it is more importantly a reminder of our daily need to repent. This year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which falls on Wednesday, March 9. The 40 fast days that people will be observing are likened to Jesus’40 fast days in the wilderness after his baptism.”
Father Peter Scott, Rector of Holy Spirit Anglican Church, agrees that Lent is the season in which many Christians aim to be more Christ-like than usual. It is also a season that was traditionally used as a time of preparation for new converts to Christianity.
“The word’lent’simply means’spring’, and the season dates back to the third century when the church established a period of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter, particularly for the Catechumens[converts]as they prepared for their baptism into the church.”
The rector said that this occasion is special because it symbolizes Our Lord being led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, to be tested by Satan. He has a large task ahead of Him, and the Spirit intentionally takes Christ to be tested and tried, to harden and prepare Him for trial and triumph.
The priest explained that the first”Lent”, as are all that follow, was about confronting sin and crushing it with the power of God. Jesus grew closer to His Father as He fasted 40 days and 40 nights. He sacrificed and grew stronger in the process, which is what we as Christians should aim to achieve in this season.
Father Scott also said that although traditionally many people believe in giving up something during this time, he believes that you should also take on a positive challenge as well to make the occasion a double fold blessing.
“Many of us have been taught to give up certain things for Lent, such as desserts, alcohol etc. This is good but it only becomes meaningful if we use the money saved toward the poor or some charity, as most of us take it right back on after Lent is over,”he said.
“I like to encourage persons to take on something extra in Lent and continue with it after Lent has come and gone. Perhaps we can pray more, read our Bibles more, attend an extra service during the week, or join a[social]organization or ministry.”
Father Scott encouraged people to draw on God’s strength as Jesus did to overcome satan and defeat sin in their lives.
“Make this Lent different, make it a time to confront and crush sin in your life. Thomas a’Kempis, the author of the’Imitation of Christ’says’the best way to push out old sinful habits is to adopt new holy habits,’the rector said.