Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Christian churches mark the arrival of Lent

For many Christians, tomorrow's Ash Wednesday marks the arrival of Lent. But where did the festival first come from?

by Shaun Ingledew

Coming directly after Shrove Tuesday (or  to give it its proper title "Pancake Day") in the Christian Calendar is the Celebration of Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Easter and a very important period for Christians worldwide. Where Shrove Tuesday provides mass sales of lemons, sugar and pancake mix in England, the American equivalent, Mardi Gras, blasts our flimsy pancakes out of the proverbial water in a carnival celebration that engulfs the entire nation. But why are these celebrations necessary before Ash Wednesday, a time of such serenity and abstinence which is rarely followed and often convoluted in the Christian faith?

The celebration of Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of a 40 day period which leads up to Easter and the Death of Jesus Christ. Although not directed to do so in the Bible,  many Christian Denominations believe that they too should mimic Jesus’ 40 day period of fasting in the desert, in which he was tempted by the Devil, by forgoing some luxury such as chocolate, smoking or alcohol. It also gives a nod to Moses’ 40 days of fasting in Exodus.
This beginning of abstinence (often referred to as ‘Lent’) culminates in a church service on Ash Wednesday where the head of the church applies ashes to the foreheads of the congregation in the sign of the cross. Although the origins of this ritual are unclear and could be seen as paganistic, there are a few occasions in the Bible where ashes are used as a sign of repentance (see Job 42:3-6, Daniel 9:6, Jeremiah 6:26) so this provides justification for the ritual.

With many other religious periods of abstinence take primary importance in people’s lives such as The High Holy Days in Judaism and Ramadan in Islam as well as non religious periods endured in the name of charity, such as the festival of the hairy upper lip (otherwise known as ‘Movember’), ‘Stoptober’ (smoking) and ‘Dry January’ (alcohol), Ash Wednesday will inevitably continue as a period for Christians to try free themselves from a personal vice in the name of God. @shauningledew


Twitter Facebook Facebook Delicious Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Subscribe | About | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact