What do Ash Wednesday and Lent mean?
‘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, For dust you are and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19). 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 58:5-9 says it best: Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, a day to afflict oneself? To bow one’s head like a reed, and lie upon sackcloth and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!” – Isaiah 58:9