When Does Lent Start in 2015?
Lent starts on Ash Wed, Feb 18 and ends with the start of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which is the beginning of the Triduum. Easter Sunday is April 5.
What is Lent?
Lent is a time when the Catholic Church collectively enters into preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lent originally developed as a forty-day retreat, preparing converts to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. It is now a part of our Church’s liturgical calendar and a season of conversion for all. Conversion is the process of turning away from sin and turning to God.
Are Sundays a part of Lent?
Sundays are always a day of celebration of Christ’s passion and Resurrection, so we celebrate on these days. While still part of the season of Lent, they have a mixture of both celebration (because it is Sunday) and repentance (because it is Lent).
Does this mean I can “cheat” on Sundays?
Since Sundays are not part of the penitential season, you are not required to practice signs of penitence on these days. But, there is no reason you can’t do them either. If you feel you are “cheating” then it isn’t helping! Since the Church has some conflicting information (different documents state different things) I think you should do what you feel is best regarding the Lenten season and Sundays. In other words, follow your conscience.
Why forty days and not some other number?
Because 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special – as in the 40 day flood of Noah.
*Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai forty days (Ex 24:18),
Jonah gives the people of Ninevah forty days to repent (Jon 3:4) – (there are many other Old Testament stories)
*Jesus, before starting his ministry, spent 40 days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2).
So, as in the Bible, we spend 40 days in preparing ourselves to rejoice at the Resurrection of our Lord at Easter.
What is Ash Wednesday all about?
Ash Wednesday is so named because this first day of Lent is where we are marked with ashes to show the repentance of our sins and mourning. This is also a Biblical sign that we live today. We can see this in several verses.
“I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Dan 9:3)
Other verses include: 1 Sam 4:12, Jon 3:6, Esther 4:1 and Matt 11:20-21
Today, ashes are still this same sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.
So, why are the ashes made into a cross on the forehead?
Because it is the ancient sign of being marked by Christ in our baptism. We are no longer our own, but Jesus Christ owns us. The book of Revelation tells us that all the elect will be marked by the sign of Christ – “On Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)
Where do we get the ashes?
They come from burning the palms from last years Palm Sunday Masses.
Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wed. While we have communion only for Catholics who are in good standing with the Church, all may receive ashes.
Is Ash Wed a holy day of Obligation?
No. But all Catholics are strongly urged to attend, because it is the start of the Lenten season.
Do we have to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wed?
Yes. This means that all Catholics from 14 and up are required to abstain from meat and Catholics 18-60 are required to eat only one average meal and two snacks without anything else. Children, the elderly and those who are sick are not obligated to do this.
Again, this is because we are called to by Jesus. By denying ourselves something good, we remember what the highest good of all is – GOD. We also practice self-discipline and self-mastery, which we need in order to achieve holiness. Jesus fasted in the desert and calls us to as well.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matt 6: 16)
“and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” (Luke 2:37)
Fasting also helps focus us in our prayer. *Yet when they were ill, I…humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm 35:13)