The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things and/or taking on others. Both can serve to mark the season as a holy time of preparation. Some examples of things people give up for Lent include sweets, meat for all or some meals, and alcohol. In most cases, giving up something for Lent can be made more meaningful by using the money or time for another purpose. For example, meal times on fast days could be spent in prayer. If you give up meat during Lent, the extra money that would go to meat dishes can be given to a group that works to end hunger. Some things added during Lent are daily Bible reading, fasting on Fridays, times of prayer or taking a course of study related in some way to spirituality.
Note that the season of Lent is forty days plus the six Sundays. This is because Sundays are celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection and are always an appropriate day to lessen the restrictions of Lent. If you have, for example, given up chocolate for Lent, you could indulge in a weekly candy bar on Sunday. Lent is also an especially appropriate time for the sacrament of confession. While confession to a priest is not required to receive God’s forgiveness, it can be a meaningful rite of reconciliation with God.
Special Days and Services
This is actually the day before Lent begins. The day is named for the “shriving” or confessing that was traditional on this day before beginning Lent. This day is also known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” because it was a time for eating the things from which one would abstain during Lent. Pancake suppers are traditional as they were a way of using up some of the ingredients not needed during Lent.
The first day of Lent is marked with a special liturgy. The theme for the day, though not for all of Lent, is that we stand as sinners condemned to die, except for God’s grace. This is symbolized by the imposition of ashes on the forehead, with the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” In the Old Testament, ashes were a sign of penitence (feeling regretful for offenses) and mourning. Ash Wednesday is one of two days of special observance (the other being Good Friday) for which fasting is recommended. While this usually refers going without food for the entire day, this practice is not practical for all persons, including, but not limited to, diabetics. Use your own discretion in determining how you can best observe this day.
This Sunday before Easter is the last Sunday in Lent. The day commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with a blessing of palms and a procession in which the whole congregation carries palms. The day is also marked by reading the story of Jesus’ passion (the word used to describe Jesus’ death comes from “suffering,” which is one old meaning of passion). Some of the Palm Sunday palms are kept and used to make the Ash Wednesday ashes for the next year.
This is the Thursday in Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). The day is a time for remembering The Last Supper. The name comes from the Latin word “Maundatum” for “commandment” as Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment; that you love one another.” At the conclusion of this service, altars are stripped of any ornamentation and crosses are removed or veiled to mark the solemnness of the occasion.
The Friday in Holy Week is a time for remembering Jesus’ death. Traditionally there is a Good Friday service at noon as Jesus hung on the cross from noon until 3 p.m. There may also be an evening service. This is the second day of special observance for which fasting is recommended. One should use discretion in decided how best to observe this day. There is no celebration of Communion from Maundy Thursday until the Easter Vigil on late Saturday or early Sunday. However, it is customary in many churches to give out the elements of communion blessed during the Maundy Thursday service.
The Easter Vigil
This service is appropriate from after sunset on Holy Saturday until sunrise Easter morning. This was the traditional time of baptism in the early centuries of Christianity. This service begins in darkness and a new fire is lit, from which the Christ candle is lighted. It signifies the light of Christ coming into the world anew at the resurrection. This service ends the season of Lent and begins the joy of the Easter season.
Stations of the Cross
These are depictions of 14 incidents in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death from Pilate’s house to being placed in the tomb. They are used for the service called the Way of the Cross, which visits each station in turn with a brief reading, response, collect (prayer) and on some occasions, a meditation. This is particularly appropriate for Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent.
The fourth Sunday of Lent has long been observed as a day for completely relaxing the disciplines of Lent. It is also known as Mothering Sunday as this was the first Mother’s Day and a traditional time for remembering your mother.
Let us, therefore, join in the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.