In today’s Christendom, lent is a common practice observed by mostly the orthodox churches like the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and other Christian organizations. Unlike the New Year, Christmas, Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day and other pagan holidays that are celebrated by the secular, non-religious world, the Lenten season is observed by dedicated religious believers.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lanten Season. In 2019, the Lenten Season commenced on 28th February which was Ash Wednesday; to usher in the observation of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, many solemnly mark their foreheads with ash. Then for the next 40 (forty) days, they “fast” by abstaining from certain foods or physical pleasure until Easter. This is done to supposedly imitate Jesus Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-2). Some give up smoking, others give up chewing gum, still others give up over-eating or cursing. People vow to give up anything, as long as it prepares them for the Easter.
People who observe Lent may be religious, dedicated and sincere – but the essence is the reflection of the life of Jesus. Indeed, to examine Lent, its practices and customs, it’s historic and religious origins and its true meaning from the Bible’s perspective, should not be from the “tradition” of men (Mark 7:7 – 9)
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. The better the preparation, the more effective the celebration will be. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God’s will and make His Kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts.”
According to Alexander Hislop, Lent was not observed by the first century church! It was first addressed by the church at Rome during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, when Emperor Constantine officially recognizcd that church as the Roman Empire’s state religion. In AD 360, the Council of Laodicea officially commanded Lent to be observed.
Originally, people did not observe Lent for more than a week. Some kept it for 40 consecutive hours, falsely believing that only 40 hours had elapsed between Christ’s death arid resurrection.
Eventually, it became a 40-day period of fasting or abstaining from certain foods. During the early centuries (from the fifth century especially), the observance of the fast was very strict. Only one meal a day, toward evening, was allowed! Flesh meat and fish and, in most places, even eggs and dairy products, were absolutely forbidden. Meat was not even allowed on Sundays (Catholic Encyclopedia).
According to the Apostolic Constitution, Poeniternini of Pope Paul IV (February 17, 1966), abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of the year that do not fallon holy days of obligation, and fasting as well as abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Today, Lent is used for “fasting from sin and from vice, forsaking sin and sinful ways”. It is a season “for penance, which means sorrow for sin and conversion to God”. This tradition teaches that fasting and employing self-discipline during Lent will give a worshipper the “control” over himself that needs to purify his heart and renew his life.
However, the Bible clearly shows that self-control – temperance – comes from having God’s Holy Spirit working in the life of a converted mind (Gal. 5:16,17,22). Lenten season should not be a mere ritual of faith practice. 1t should be a period of total turn-around from sin to righteousness, According to Wikipedia, Lent (Latin Quadragesima fortieth), is a solemn religious observance. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh and repentance.
Lent in Christian church is a period of penitial preparation for Easter. In Eastern Church, Lent begins on the Monday of the seventh week before Easter and ends on the Friday that is nine days before Easter. However, the emphasis on penitial practice and alms giving are also observed within the period of Lent.
According to Catholic Education Resource Centre, Lent became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in AD 313. Lent is an acceptable observance in Christian faith today. Therefore, the period of Lent should be used for faith building and reconciliation of every issue in the body of Christ.
The church, especially the orthodox, should engage in aggressive teaching on the importance of Lent to a Christian. As we await the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter, let the church be united and work as one body.
Ogwuonuonu wrote in from Port Harcourt.