The Great Courses

What Are You Giving Up For Lent?

Feb 18, 2015 at 6:28 AM

It's Ash Wednesday. 

child with lent symbol

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent (the 40-day period before Easter). It's a time of strict fasting and abstinence, named after the Old English word for spring. 

40 days is a "thing" in Christian scripture. Moses stayed on the mountain for 40 days. Jesus prayed in the wilderness for 40 days. Etc.

On Ash Wednesday (and all Fridays during Lent), Catholics and Christians are encouraged to imitate Christ as he prayed and fasted for those long weeks. Those ages 18-60 are encouraged to eat one meal a day (with two snacks, but watch those portions to ensure they don't actually constitute another meal), and there's a prohibition on meat.

This self-denial disciplines the mind and heart and ensures that God's servants aren't slaves to their pleasures. Denying that which is physically desired shows restraint and commitment to higher things.

ash ritual

Ashes are associated with mourning and grief. In Daniel 9, people used ash to demonstrate an attitude of repentance. Ashes represent physical death (spiritual life!) and the ultimate resurrection of our "dust" upon Christ's return. Some link it to Adam, who was created from dust.

So, to recap. The Lent ritual marks six weeks celebrating the date when a god-man had himself hammered to pieces of wood because, in his omnipotence, he somehow couldn't simply manifest the forgiveness of sins that he, in his omniscience, should have foreseen. Jesus then rose into the sky and became Hide And Seek Champion of the Universe for 2,000 years. To honor him, Catholics mark their heads with a death symbol, skip a meal and, in a world of starving, suffering people, call it a "sacrifice."

A common question among believers is, "What are you giving up for Lent?" Perhaps it's time to give up the ridiculous ritual of Lent itself.

-Seth Andrews

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