February 2017

Celebrating Mardi Gras in Canada
Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world.

Mardi Gras is a time of celebration just before lent.

February 28 is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnival and/or Mardi Gras, depending on your culture and traditions. Mardi Gras is the last day for parties before the time of Lent. Lent is when many Christians fast before the Easter holiday. You don’t have to celebrate Easter to enjoy Mardi Gras, but knowing why it’s celebrated can help you understand the traditions.

What Is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is based on the date of Easter. This means that the date generally changes from year to year. In 2017, it’s February 28. Next year, the date is February 13. In Canada, it’s not a statutory holiday, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find celebrations here in the country.

During Lent, Christians give up many indulgences, such as meat, alcohol and rich foods. Shrove Tuesday began as a way of using up the food in the household that might be forbidden during Lent. Some believe that Pancake Tuesday was a pagan holiday. Christians are reported to have made pancakes because the recipe would use up eggs, lard or butter, sugar and milk, foods that might be limited through Lent.

Although Lent probably originated in Europe, people around the world now celebrate Mardi Gras, Carnival or Shrove Tuesday with huge festivals. Masquerades and costumes are popular, but so are large amounts of alcohol, many rich foods, not only pancakes and pastries.

At one time, Mardi Gras was a more sedate celebration. Today, it is often considered the single person’s holiday in late Winter, as opposed to Valentine’s Day, which is more couple-centric. 

Where to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Since 1445, Olney in Buckinghamshire has held a pancake race in which women (although men can participate) carry a frypan and toss a pancake in it while racing 415 yards (one-quarter of a kilometer). The pancake must be in the pan when crossing the finish line, and the contestants must be tossing it as they cross the finish. Typically, these women also dress as housewives, wearing an apron and a scarf. Following the race, everyone goes to the church for a service.

Rio, New Orleans, Trinidad and Tobago and Sydney, Australia are great places to go to enjoy huge parties and crowds for Mardi Gras. Not only is this a time to eat indulgently, it’s also a time to be free of inhibitions. It’s an “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude. In New Orleans, it’s traditional to accumulate beads. Tourists think the best way to get beads is to flash someone, but really, locals prefer you just shout, “throw me something, mister!“ at the people on the floats. Parents of children who come out for the parade will thank you for not flashing yourself for their kids to see.

Places in Canada to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Locally, the most popular place for Mardi Gras celebrations is in Quebec City, but this year’s Carnaval de Quebec was from January 27 through February 12, making it much earlier than Mardi Gras. Ottawa’s Winterlude also misses it this year, as it is from February 3 through 20. You may just have to look for ones in your neighborhood or create your own traditions.

World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony Week is about peace between religions.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is about bringing different religions together.

Seven years ago, H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed a week for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in dialogue based on common elements of their religions. The King made this proposal to the United Nations, and it only took one month to be unanimously adopted by the organization. The first week in February is now observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Common Elements in Monotheistic Religions

Muslims, Jews and Christians have two commandments that are common in each religion:

  • Love of God
  • Love of the Neighbor

The idea is that these two commandments are at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Looking at these two philosophies, we can find solid theological ground without compromising the tenets of our own faith.

Leaders came together and published “A Common Word” (ACW) as a way to bring religions together. “ACW is a document which uses religion as the solution to the problems of inter-religious tensions. By basing itself on solid theological grounds in both religions ACW has demonstrated to Christians and Muslims that they have a certain common ground (despite irreducible theological differences) and that both religions require them to have relations based on love not on hatred.”

2017 Events Around the World

Countries around the globe plan events to bring people together to find world peace. According to worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com, in 2017, there are currently 472 events on the calendar. While Western countries plan activities smaller countries have activities listed on the calendar.

King Abdullah believed that society could use infrastructure to bring harmony and peace between individuals, thus leading to peace between countries. Although we still have a lot of work to do, it is evident that more people want to see respect and tolerance between religions, governments and communities.

2017 Theme

The theme for 2017 is “The Gift of Love”. Although he is a direct descendent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, the King is funding the restoration of Christ’s Tomb in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. His gift is thought to be worth about $4 million dollars. King Abdullah believes in the true message of Islam, but he also promotes interfaith dialogue. He has proven his worthiness as custodian of both Muslim and Christian holy sites through his words, deeds and actions. He truly has given the world a gift of love by respecting a faith not his own.

Take Part in World Interfaith Harmony Week

World Interfaith Harmony Week for all the world’s religions. While religions have common ground, it’s up to us to engage in dialogue and find that common ground to bring us together.

The United Nations has many declarations for world peace, cultural diversity and tolerance. World Interfaith Harmony Week is just one more time that is dedicated to finding common ground between faiths. We may not be able to change the entire world by being friendly, but we can change our community by encouraging diversity and tolerance.

Holiday Carols for the Season
Nothing can get you into the holiday spirit quite like holiday carols.

Holiday Carols are a great way to spread the holiday spirit and really get people in the Christmas mood.

Traditionally, a holiday carol is a religious song of joy linked to a particular season. Most people associate carols with Christmas. Many of the most popular carols sung in churches were written in the Victorian age.

 

 

 

Holiday Carols for Caroling

  • “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a fairly recent song made popular by Bing Crosby. It was actually written as a plea for peace during the Cuban missile crisis, but the writer, Noël Regney, was inspired to add the Christmas lyrics.
  • “Here We Come A-wassailing” is from the English tradition of orphans and beggars dancing and singing in the streets hoping to get treats and drinks from the homes of the gentry during the Christmas season.
  • “Mary, Did You Know?” debuted in 1991 and has become a very popular Christmas song.
  • “O Holy Night” was added to the list of Christmas carols by French poet Placide Cappeau. Adolphe Adam, a French composer, wrote the music. Opera singer Emily Laurey was the first to sing the tune, but there are many current renditions of this familiar song that reflects on the birth of Jesus.
  • “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was given to us by Charles Wesley, but George Whitefield gave us the adaptation we’re more familiar with today. Felix Mendelssohn’s music was adapted by an English composer to fit the words and phrasing.
  • “The Little Drummer Boy” might have been made popular by the 1968 television special, but it was actually recorded by the Austrian Trapp Family Singers in 1951. “The Little Drummer Boy” is a carol from Czechoslovakia, which has been recorded multiple times by many popular singers.
  • “Joy to the World” is said to be the most-published Christmas carol in North America. Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics, basing them on Psalm 98. The music is thought to be based on the “Messiah” oratorio by George Frideric Handel, but there is no actual evidence to support this.

Other Holiday Staples

 

  • “What Child Is This?” is more popular in North America than in its birthplace of England. The tune is from a traditional English folk song, “Greensleeves.” William Chatterton Dix wrote the lyrics for the Christmas carol, which has been recorded by many popular artists for special Christmas albums.
  • “Mary, Did You Know?” debuted in 1991 and has become a very popular Christmas song. Michael English was the first to record it, but Clay Aiken, Cee Lo Green and Pentatonix have all created their own version of the song.
  • “O Holy Night” was added to the list of Christmas carols by French poet Placide Cappeau. Adolphe Adam, a French composer, wrote the music. Opera singer Emily Laurey was the first to sing the tune, but there are many current renditions of this familiar song that reflects on the birth of Jesus.
  • “We Three Kings of Orient Are” was written in the mid-19th century by an American clergyman who served in the Episcopal Church. It’s actually about an event that occurred after the birth of Christ, but it remains a popular Christmas song.
  • “Angels from the Realms of Glory” was written by Scottish poet James Montgomery and first published in 1816. The music was added later, with English and American versions to different tunes.
  • “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was penned by Phillips Brooks, a priest in the Episcopal Church. His organist would add the music. Neither believed that the hymn would outlive the first performance during the 1868 Christmas season, but it’s one of the most popular Christmas carols today.

Expand Your Caroling Horizon

This year, as you sing the Christmas music of your faith, think about the message in the words. Remember that the season is about family and friends, Christ’s birth and goodwill toward all. Be kind toward each other and consider that not everyone celebrates Christmas as you know it. “Happy Holidays” is a greeting that encompasses many different faiths. Use it when in doubt.

Wedding Traditions From Around The World
Certain wedding traditions have been practiced for hundreds of years.

There are all kinds of traditions that continue through the world. Many have similarities while others can be vastly different.

If you’re trying to plan a unique ceremony for your special day, check out some of these special wedding traditions from around the world.

 

 

 

Wedding Traditions from other Cultures

  • Congo – Brides and grooms aren’t allowed to smile on their wedding day. When they do, it shows that they aren’t serious about the marriage.
  • China – The bride travels to the groom’s home in a decorated sedan chair. Attendants take care of the bride on the journey by holding parasols to shield her from the elements. They throw rice at the chair as a sign of prosperity and health. Female bridesmaids put the groom through a series of tests for him to prove his worthiness of the bride. He must give them envelopes of money before they’ll allow him to have their friend.
  • Fiji – The potential bridegroom must present his father with a whale’s tooth when he asks for her hand in marriage.
  • Jamaica – The bride is paraded through the streets. If the villagers go home, it means she didn’t look her best. She must go home and spruce herself up for another go.

Some Other Cultures Practices

  • Guatemala – The groom’s parents host the reception party. The groom’s mother breaks a ceramic bell filled with grains to give the couple prosperity.
  • Germany – The guests break porcelain dishes in front of the new home. The bride and groom are to clean these dishes up together as a demonstration of working together to overcome anything.
  • Scotland – Gretna Green is the place to elope. In medieval times, Gretna Green would marry young couples who did not always have parental permission.
  • Kenya – The bride’s father spits on her as she leaves the reception. It’s thought to preempt fate by not seeming too supportive of the couple.
  • Greece – The best man (or groom’s best friend) shaves the groom before the wedding. The new mother-in-law feeds him honey and almonds.
  • Japan – A Shinto bride wears white from head to toe. The head covering is thought to hide the horns of jealousy toward her new mother-in-law. The white symbolizes her maidenhood.
  • Norway – The traditional cake is called kransekake. It’s a tower of almond cake rings stacked on top of each other. The center is often filled with a wine bottle. The bride may wear a gold and silver crown with small trinkets as part of her wedding finery. As she moves, the trinkets jingle, which scares off the evil spirits.
  • Russia – Couples partake of a sweetbread called karavaya which is decorated with grains of wheat for fertility. Whoever takes the largest bite without using their hands is thought to be the head of the family.

As you go through this list, you might notice that many of the wedding traditions are similar to customs we have here. It just shows that we’re more alike than we think.

Historical Churches in Montreal
Historical churches are riddled throughout Montreal.

Notre Dame Basilica Montreal is one of the many historical churches to visit while in Montreal.

Montreal is home to a number of beautiful historical churches. Although it might not be the city you think of when you consider religious history in Canada, it is home to four Roman Catholic basilicas. These churches stand out as a centre of liturgy in the church’s tradition. Only 1,580 churches around the world have been designated a basilica. Montreal houses a number of other stunning religious buildings. Here are seven churches that you should take time to visit and experience, even if you don’t belong to the faith.

 

Different Historical Churches in Montreal

  1. Church of La Visitation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie – Although this church is not the oldest church in the city, it does have the oldest original structure and interior. It was finished in 1752, but the stained glass windows were not added until 1893. This structure does not have the exterior presence that some of the basilicas have, but the interior is absolutely breathtaking.
  2. Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel – Another very old church founded in 1655. The structure was rebuilt in the late 18th century on the ruins of another church. There’s a museum attached to the church where visitors can learn more about the church history and understand the importance of the altar painting.
  3. Saint Patrick’s Basilica – It took four years to construct this church, and it’s been preserved quite well since its completion in 1847. Saint Patrick’s claim is that it is the oldest English-speaking Roman Catholic church in the city. It houses more than 150 oil paintings. You might want to count the shamrocks or fleur-de-lis symbols.
  4. Church of Saint-Pierre-Apotre – Built in the mid-19th century, this church has also preserved its original interior. The only major change in the original was the installation of stained glass windows about 30 years after it was built. Make sure to visit the Chapel of Hope, which has been dedicated to the victims of AIDS.
  5. Saint Joseph’s Oratory – The Oratory is a national shrine and is Canada’s largest church. The architectural style is Renaissance. Stroll through the monumental walkway any season, but spring and summer are the best times to visit if you enjoy beautiful gardens. Plan to spend some time in the art museum, too.
  6. Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal – If you can’t make it to Paris to see the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral, visit this basilica in this local city. The pipe organ and wood sculptures make this church stand out as one of the city’s top attractions. This structure dates back almost 200 years to 1824.
  7. Church of Saint Genevieve – This church was founded in 1732. The structure wasn’t built until 1844, and it took another 20 years to finish the interior, which has been preserved for all to enjoy the beautiful white and gold colours. It’s a stunning monument that you shouldn’t miss.

Churches are vital to every community. The history of these churches tells a story about the people that helps us more deeply understand the city. Take some time to tour religious buildings and find out more about the heritage of your neighbors.

 

Take a Religious Tour of Vancouver
Religious tours give great insight as to how churches function.

While taking a religious tour, you get to see the inner workings of how churches function.

Even if you aren’t religious, there’s a lot that can be learned by taking a religious tour within a city. You may need to call and make arrangements if you want to tour the inside of the church, but you don’t even have to go inside to see the architecture of the building. Make sure you don’t interrupt worship services. Vancouver is not one of the oldest cities in Canada, but there’s still a lot of heritage within the city. Here are some of the best churches to visit when you’re in town.

Different Churches to Visit On Your Religious Tour

  1. Paul’s Anglican Church was built in 1905. It is now a heritage building that cannot be torn down, nor have the integrity of its design altered. It’s a Gothic Revival design, and when you go inside, there’s a replica of a medieval labyrinth laid in the floor. It’s not a maze, but a walking path that leads into the centre and back out again. People of all faiths use it for meditation and reflection. The labyrinth is open to the public during certain times of the day.
  2. Christ Church Cathedral is noted for its stained glass windows. It’s such a popular exhibit that the church has a self-guided tour that can be downloaded to walk you through the building. The church itself is an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture built at the turn of the 20th You might even think that it was taken out of the English countryside and moved to its location in Vancouver. In 1995, the church began a restoration project that took about 11 years. Visitors are invited to take a walking tour through the building to enjoy its rich heritage.
  3. The Holy Rosary Cathedral is home to the Roman Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II visited this church when he came to Vancouver. This building was built in the French Gothic style, and it features 21 beautiful pictorial stained glass windows. It’s one of three places in British Columbia where bells are hung in the English way. The bells made three oceanic crossings before the final installation. After one installation, the bells were not considered melodic enough and had to be sent to England to be melted down and recast.
  4. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church is a short walk from downtown. The Gothic building was completed in 1933, and it’s a popular venue for music concerts. Every Sunday, the church offers Jazz Vespers in the afternoon and candlelight and music service in the evening as extra worship services for the community. The church also houses many stained glass windows and liturgical hangings to help understand the faith.
  5. Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral is a beautiful building that did not receive the designation of Cathedral until 1983, but the parish was established in 1937. On the first Friday of the month, the church hosts a Ukrainian supper featuring pirogies and cabbage rolls at great prices. The inside of the Cathedral features beautiful paintings of icons. Worshippers venerate, not worship, these icons and show respect for their faith by genuflecting before the icon painting.

Learning more about faiths outside of your own opens your eyes to the similarities and differences between different religions. It can bridge gaps between individuals and in communities. Take a religious tour of your own town if you can’t get to Vancouver to explore its religious heritage. Look at the difference in architecture, decorations and stained glass windows. You don’t have to be a believer to see the beauty in the history of the building and interior décor. Understanding how religion affects someone’s life helps you understand their morals, their celebrations and their lifestyle. And it gives you a better understanding of the world.

Anglicans Provide Pastoral Guidelines for Assisted Dying
Euthanasia Palliative Hospice

Assisted dying is a huge decision that should not be taken lightly.

It doesn’t matter where you stand on assisted dying when the reality is that the government has removed restrictions against physician-assisted dying in certain cases. It may not be for you personally, but what are you going to do when a loved one decides it’s the only option? Doctors are not the only ones who will wrestle with their consciences under the changing climate surrounding assisted dying. Pastoral care during this time is essential, which is why the Anglican Church of Canada released a report urging its leaders to recognize assisted dying as a reality and to provide palliative and pastoral care for patients and families.

Understanding the Framework

The Anglican Church formed a task force to study the issue. Canon Eric Beresford chaired the committee. He says, “We’re no longer in a debate about whether or not society is going to legalise physician-assisted dying – that’s happening, that train is out of the station.” The question now is how Anglicans can address the needs of those who will avail themselves of physician-assisted dying. Anglicans, like many churches around the world, believe that life is sacred. The report itself doesn’t actually answer the question of “whether Anglicans should be for or against assisted dying.” What it does do is outline theological questions and concerns while providing resources and prayers for those who are facing the end of their lives.

Quoting from “In Sure and Certain Hope: Resources to Assist Pastoral and Theological Approaches to Physician Assisted Dying,”

“Ultimately, it is not the pastoral care givers belief, nor the traditions or dogma of any faith tradition, nor the hopes and desires of family and friends which will determine the choice of assisted-dying. The final choice remains with the parishioner, informed by their own conscientious appropriation of their faith tradition. Family and friends provide the primary community within which the conversations that shape decisions happen. The pastoral care giver’s role becomes that of spiritual guide or facilitator. It is the pastoral care-giver who reminds and draws everyone’s attention back to the reality that God is present and amongst them sustaining this difficult journey of discernment and choice within God’s embrace of love and grace.”

Support and Care for Individuals

One term that is used in the report is “covenant of presence,” which is a commitment by pastors and loved ones to be there for those who are considering assisted dying. There’s no debate that the issue of physician-assisted dying is sensitive and complex, but being present to help someone at the end of his or her life is not providing support to the actual issue. It’s about individual care. Pastors cannot simply abandon members of their congregations. Families cannot step aside when a loved one has decided to take action. Being present is a way of upholding the dignity and autonomy of a life.

According to Dying With Dignity, a national organization that is an advocate for compassionate end of life choices, about 80 percent of Canadians support the right for advance consent to assisted dying, including giving individuals with dementia options for physician-assisted dying. Dying With Dignity has a website devoted to resources and support for those who are considering physician-assisted dying. Learn your rights and get a planning kit to help you talk to your loved ones and doctor.

The debate continues as leaders in government try to provide guidance over regulations for physician-assisted dying. People who choose assisted dying under the current guidelines can’t wait for the debate to end. Providing support and care for a loved one does not mean that you agree with his or her decision. It just means that you love and care for your family member and want to be there as he or she makes difficult decisions. Everyone can learn from the Anglican approach to assisted dying.

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Advocates for Marriage Equality in the Anglican Church
Advocates for Marriage Equality in the Anglican Church

Advocates for Marriage Equality in the Anglican Church

In 1976, the Episcopal Church (the branch of the Anglican church in the United States) took steps toward marriage equality when it recognized that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” In 2015, the General Convention made changes to church canon and liturgy for marriage equality. Months later, at the Anglican Communion’s Primates’ Meeting, the primates, who are the head bishops of the church, voted to suspend the right of the Episcopal Church to be represented at international meetings. This summer, the Canadian Anglican Church is expected to vote on same-sex marriage equality for its membership. The debate has been going on for months, and it’s not looking positive, but there are people who are pushing forward.

Same-Sex Marriages and the Anglican Church

The General Synod, which is the body responsible for church canon, has been trying to find agreement over same-sex marriages in the church since 2004 when they deferred the vote over blessing the union or not. This would have given each church the authority to bless unions. One of the bishops had already given permission for some of the priests in his district to bless same-sex unions as early as 2003. Currently, there are many parishes that are authorized to bless all marriages, but the church itself has not approved the change to the marriage canon.

This July, the General Synod is voting on a change to the canon at its triennial meeting. According to the final report presented to the Commission on the Marriage Canon,

“In 2013 the General Synod passed a resolution (C003, which is included as an appendix to this report) directing the drafting of a motion ‘to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples, and that this motion should include a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.’ Such a motion will be considered by the General Synod in 2016.”

After a special meeting early in February, the House of Bishops announced that the resolution would probably not pass because it would not get the support it needed to pass. It takes a two-thirds majority to pass, and according to an article in the Anglican Journal, one-third of the bishops are in favor of the change. Another third of the bishops are opposed. The remaining third are those bishops who are still wrestling with the issue. There is another meeting in April to provide more thought and alternatives to the resolution before the final vote in July.

Social Media Comes to the Rescue

Just a few days following the statement from the Bishops, advocates of the resolution came together and formed a Facebook group, Advocates for Changing the Marriage Canon. It started out with 25 members in March, and it has grown to almost 1400. Both clergy and laypeople are in the group. Administrators must approve the request to join, or you must be invited by another member. The rules are clear that the group is not there to debate the issue. It is strictly for those who are in support of the resolution. Members have reached out to the leaders in the church, expressing their views about why this resolution is so important to the church and to their faith. The group is actively reaching out to the House of Bishops, but it also is serving a purpose of unity among Anglicans who feel marginalized because their marriages are not recognized by church canon. We’ll be watching this issue to see how it turns out when the Bishops vote in July.

Why Are Churches Losing Attendance?
Why are churches are losing attendance?

Why are churches are losing attendance?

Pick up any Christian magazine or read one online, and you’ll find many theories about why churches are losing attendance. Many people believe that the church is no longer relevant. Some think that adults are choosing to ignore God. There are others who see the church as too hierarchal. In Canada, about 25 percent of adults identify as having no religious affiliation. Many studies have been done about the actual number of people who stop attending church, but very few look at the reasons why. The Church of Scotland, which is Scotland’s national church, commissioned a study about the lack of attendance. The findings were surprising.

One of the key beliefs in failing congregations is that the members lose faith in God and this is why they stop attending. Another issue that has been thought to ravage church membership is disagreements. Women still do not find support in leadership in many churches. The LGBTQ community is also disenchanted with the church, which is another reason that people stop attending. However, Dr. Steve Aisthorpe, the researcher who carried out the study for the Church of Scotland, found something interesting.

Are People Leaving Church or God?

Dr. Aisthorpe discovered that about 66 percent, or two-thirds, of those who left the church now practice and worship in different ways. Many still gather with like-minded individuals to discuss theological issues and pray together. They choose different venues, such as homes or parks, or even do activities together where they can share their faith and address questions they have about their convictions. Aisthorpe also found that this phenomenon was not different in rural and urban churches.

This suggests that it is the organization of the church that keeps people away. More people are turning away from large congregations for a more personalized worship ritual. Arguments and division may turn some people away from church, but this doesn’t indicate that they stop believing in God. A spokesman for the National Secular Society states that “Churches are out of step, and the people in the pews are voting with their feet.”

The Health of the Church and Religious Community

Although Dr. Aisthorpe carried out the majority of his research in Scotland, he did not only look at his own country to get information. He looked at related research from the Western world. He found changes in the attendance of Sunday morning worship, but he doesn’t believe that should be the only measure of the health of the Christian community and faith. His research suggests that churches are in a transitional period, rather than a decline.

What happens now with the church, in whatever denomination, is up to the individual community. Pastors, priests, and religious leaders need to find what works for their own congregation. The Christian community is not the only religion that is having a hard time filling their seats. Many Jewish synagogues are finding it difficult to maintain membership rolls. In Japan, religious organizations are facing the crisis of having to close Buddhist monasteries because the smaller communities cannot afford to support the monks. The rural areas do not have the number of people they once had, and those areas with more of a population are finding that nationals are not using the services of the temples.

Another key element that Dr. Aisthorpe’s research demonstrates is that the church leaders have to stop assuming and stereotyping those who do not attend church. The reasons that keep people away may have nothing to do with their actual faith in God. It’s easy to point to other problems when the congregation fails. Instead of pointing fingers, churches need to become more relevant and change their delivery system. This is how the world works. Most faiths are buried deep in rituals and traditions that are difficult to change, but as culture changes, so must religion.

Understanding the Importance of Lent
Understanding Lent

Understanding Lent

The Islamic faith has a month of fasting known as Ramadan. Jews fast during Yom Kippur, a time of atonement. Many Christians fast during the Lenten Season. If you’re unfamiliar with Lent, take a moment to learn more about this time to understand your friends who are partaking. Even if you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you can respect those who do.

What Is Lent?

The 40 days before Easter are considered a time of preparation of Christ’s resurrection and known as Lent. The dates are calculated a little differently, but it’s about six weeks prior to Easter. Some traditions call for 40 fasting days, choosing not to count Sundays as a day of fast. Many believers pray more during this time, which culminates in the Holy Week activities. In ancient times, Lenten fasting traditions could be severe. Many people who observed Lent during medieval times gave up all animal products or only ate fish.
Today, those who observe Lent often give up a vice, like watching television, to allow them to spend more time in prayer and study. Many people add a spiritual discipline during Lent. Some people still fast, giving up meat on Friday and Saturday during Lent. Lent is often considered a time of sparsity, in which people may eat enough to sustain strength but not to conquer hunger. It is a time of grief for the Church. Some rites omit the word “alleluia” from their liturgy during the season, because it is associated with joy.

Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday

The day before Lent begins is known as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. You’ve probably heard of some of the carnival celebrations on the day. No matter what it’s called, this Tuesday is seen as one last opportunity to go overboard with food and drink before Lent begins.

The day after Shrove Tuesday is known as Ash Wednesday. Believers have ash placed on their forehead, either in the form of a cross or by sprinkling the ashes over the head. During Biblical times, ashes signified grief and sorrow for sins. The ashes do not have to be worn all day, but some people do wear them as a sign of religious freedom.

Holy Week

Those who celebrate the resurrection of Christ consider the Passiontide one of the most important times in the Christian church. The fifth Sunday of Lent begins this season. The next Sunday is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday is when Jesus is said to triumphantly enter Jerusalem. The following Wednesday is often called Spy Wednesday, and it is the day when Judas Iscariot decided to betray Jesus. The next day is Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper of Christ and the disciples.

On Good Friday, Christ’s crucifixion and burial are remembered. It is a statutory federal holiday in Canada, but in Quebec, employers can choose to give their staff either Friday or Easter Monday off. In the United States, it is no longer honored at the federal level, but some states do consider it a holiday. In some countries, certain activities such as dancing are considered profane on Good Friday, because the day is holy.

Respect the Tradition

If a co-worker mentions that he or she is fasting for Lent and can’t go to lunch, respect the decision. You may ask if he or she could go somewhere else to get fish or a vegetarian entrée, but don’t push. If you don’t celebrate Easter yourself, consider Good Friday a bonus day to spend time with your family. For some, it is a day of great religious significance, and they want the time to honor it.