‘Tis the season…Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season are upon us! No matter what your religious affiliations or beliefs are, have you ever wondered or needed a fresh description of what it all means and its purpose? If your answer is, “yes”, don’t worry–you’re not alone. In brief, here are some answers:
For starters: what is Ash Wednesday?
Although ‘Ash Wednesday’ was not exactly written about in the Bible, the mentioning of “dust” and “ashes” was sprinkled throughout it; for example: Esther 4:1, Job 42:6, Jonah 3:5-6, and Daniel 9:3-4.
Ash Wednesday may be a day of holy commitment for Catholics, however, it is not for the rest of Western Christian society. Roman Catholics attend Mass on this day to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. Worshippers of this day attend Mass to show sorrow for their sins, as well as to prepare for the holy crucifixion and resurrection, receiving a mark of the cross with ashes on their foreheads. As their priest places the ashes, he likely says, Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return. –(Genesis 3:19 KJV). The blessed ashes that are used come from the burned palms from the preceding year’s Palm Sunday.
What is Lent?
Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday, is the 46 days before Easter Sunday. The 46 days equals to 40 days of ‘fasting’ and 6 Sundays of ‘feasting’. The Lenten season is for believers in Christ to grow in their obligation and gratitude of the sacrifices of Jesus. This is done by a thorough self-analysis, prayer, abstinence, and repentance.
What to abstain from?
This is a very interesting question. Christianity Today has reported the following statistics: “3 in 10 Americans with evangelical beliefs (28%) say they observe Lent; of these, 42 percent typically fast from a favorite food or beverage while 71 percent typically attend church services.
Catholics remain the most likely to observe Lent (61%), with 2 out of 3 fasting from a favorite food or beverage (64%).
Overall, 1 in 4 Americans observes Lent (24%), according to LifeWay. Most American observers fast from a favorite food or beverage (57%) vs. a bad habit (35%) or a favorite activity (23%).
Hispanics were the most likely ethnic group to observe Lent (36%), and were more likely than whites to abstain from a favorite activity (34% vs. 17%) or a bad habit (50% vs. 30%).
In 2014, it was found that 17 percent of US adults planned to fast during Lent, including 63 percent of practicing Catholics and 16 percent of practicing Protestants. Most were giving up a food item, including chocolate (30%), meat (28%), soda (26%), or alcohol (24%).”
To conclude; I like to think that Isaiah 58:5-7 (NIV) says it best: Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.