Wineskins Archive

January 28, 2014

Christians Begin Lent With Ashes (Mar-Apr 2007)

Filed under: — @ 7:44 pm and

How do Christians celebrate Lent?

by Bill Sherman
Tulsa World Religion Writer
March – April, 2007

(Reprinted by permission of Tulsa World)

Many Christians around the world received ashes on their foreheads last Wednesday as part of an ancient rite that marks the beginning of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is observed by high church denominations such as Roman Catholics and Anglicans, as well as a growing number of churches in other denominations.

Orthodox Christianity, the vast eastern arm of the church, began what it calls the Great Lent on Monday.

Initiating the 40 days of Lent on Ash Wednesday is an ancient practice.
“Originally, followers of Christ took off their fancy clothing and wore sack cloth and ashes as a sign of penitence,” Monsignor Gregory Gier, rector of Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, said.

Lent is a time of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, the celebration of Christ’s death and Resurrection, he said.

It is a time of prayer, fasting and alms-giving to “deepen our awareness of God,” Gier said. “The combination is really quite beautiful.”

Stricter Lenten fasting requirements were in place before the Second Vatican Council, which introduced sweeping changes in the practice of Catholicism in the 1960s, Gier said.

“Vatican II urged people to choose their own penance,” he said.
In practice today, many Catholics develop their own penance in addition to following the official fast of the church, he said.
They may do things such as giving up movies during Lent and giving the money saved to the poor.

Most Catholics observe Lent as a family experience, Gier said.
The Rev. Stephen McKee of Trinity Episcopal Church said that traditionally, Lent has been a time to give something up, such as chocolate or beer.

“The trend now seems to be to take something on,” he said, to “take a few quiet minutes to reflect or work at Iron Gate,” a food ministry to the homeless. “That seems to be how people are doing things these days.”

Monsignor Patrick Gaalaas, vicar general for the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, said Catholics from age 18 to 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, eating only one meal a day, and no meat, with no between-meal snacking.

In addition, healthy Catholics age 14 and older are required to eat no meat on Fridays during Lent.

He said the practice began in the early church as a period of prayer and repentance to prepare new converts for baptism at Easter.

Gradually the church at large joined them, as preparation for Easter.
Gaalaas said Lent for Catholics ends at noon on Holy Thursday.
The Rev. Irv Cutter, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, said the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays.

“The reasoning is that every Sunday is a celebration of resurrection, and even though it falls within the Lenten period, those days stand apart.”

Catholic and Episcopal churches welcome Christians from other denominations to participate in Ash Wednesday services.

The origin of the ashes
Traditionally, the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are prepared from the palm branches of the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.

The Rev. Irv Cutter, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, said that at his church, preparation of the ashes is an important event.

“It gives continuity from year to year,” he said.

However, many churches use ashes purchased from a religious supply company.New Wineskins

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