Understanding the Importance of 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.
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.