Lent began on March 2 this year, marking a forty-day period for most Christians to prepare for the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ through a time of prayer and sacrifice.
The Christian Post reported that there are many customs and traditions surrounding Lent such as the placing of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday. The media outlet highlighted five important things Christians need to know about Lent.
First off is the meaning of the ashes placed on the forehead every Ash Wednesday. The ashes biblically represent penance in the same way that Jews would do so in the Old Testament when they wore sack clothes and placed ashes on their heads.
The Catholic Online explained that ashes also represent our mortality, which is particularly lifted from the book of Genesis 3:19 when God said to Adam after he and Eve disobeyed in eating the forbidden fruit, "for dust you are and to dust you will return." These are the very words used by a priest whenever the ashes are placed on a Catholic's head.
"This act symbolizes our mortality as well as our need for ongoing repentance. It is a reminder that this life is short and merely a foreshadowing of what we shall become through the redemption of Jesus Christ on the cross," the Catholic Online said.
"The work of our redemption will not be complete until we are raised from the dead, in resurrected bodies like His own and called to the eternal communion of Heaven," the website added.
The second important thing to remember about Lent is the reason for fasting, particularly giving up the things one likes to do or eat such as smoking, watching television, drinking alcoholic beverages or soda, and eating sweets. This practice is similarly based in the Bible, taken from Jesus' instructions on how His disciples should be.
In particular, Luke 9:23 states, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Buck Denver's "What's In A Bible?" website explains this in simple terms as a matter of self-denial.
"So, essentially it's about self-denial, carrying our cross and following Jesus. It is something that's done in a prayerful way, so that we can wholly renew ourselves in Christ," explained Denver.
Denver underscored that the goal of doing the self-sacrifice is not a matter of compliance but a matter of conversion. The process in which giving up things during Lent should be done in a prayerful way and better accompanied by reading the Holy Scripture. He recommends a best practice would be to do the fasting and Bible reading as a family.
When it comes to songs of worship and in responses to the liturgy, the Hebrew phrase, "Alleluia," is omitted. The phrase is translated as "Praise the Lord." The reason this is removed during Lent, as per the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is the season's "penitential character." Alleluia is said again during Easter Sunday, and for some, beginning the Easter Vigil.
Another important aspect about Lent is on its fourth Sunday called "Laetare Sunday," which was derived from the Latin text "Laetare, Jerusalem." This means "Rejoice, O Jerusalem." This Sunday is celebrated with a much lighter atmosphere where a celebratory tone is injected as compared to the other Sundays of Lent. This is celebrated halfway through the Lenten Season or exactly 21 days before Easter, which is basically why there is an upbeat mode to it. Easter is drawing near.
Finally, the fifth important thing to remember about Lent is the use of palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday to make the ashes for the current year's Ash Wednesday. Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday since it marks the beginning of the very week--Holy Week--that culminates on Easter Sunday.
According to the United Methodist Book of Worship, the palms can include a paper card with sins written on them before they are burned and turned into ashes. The UMC said that this is a traditional practice where the paper is distributed for the faithful to either write their sins on or any hurtful or unjust characteristic.