If you attend a church where Ash Wednesday is celebrated each year or if you have friends who participate in an Ash Wednesday service, you may remember that each February some of us end up with a cross made of ashes on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday (this year it falls on February 22) is the first day of the Season of Lent in the Christian Year. It is always 46 days before Easter and it marks the beginning of our season of penitence. Ash Wednesday is a day we remember our sins, embrace our mortality from which we believe only Christ can release us, and begin our season of self-examination and prayerful reflection.
The eve of Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, a day where the early church reminded its congregations to prepare a mental list of all of the sins that needed to be “shriven” or forgiven. A disciple of Jesus was encouraged to use the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday to consider all of their sins and possibly indulge in the food and festivities that would be sacrificed during the Season of Lent. Pancakes were eaten because of their fatty and sugary ingredients that were often abstained from during the Lenten Fast. Persons began to call Shrove Tuesday Pancake Tuesday. Then carnivals were added to increase the fanfare and celebration before the penitential season and the day became known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, when indulgences were celebrated. However, the original point of Mardi Gras was to rid the “body” of its sinful desire so that one might better observe a holy Lent – only those who would devote themselves to the spiritual disciplines of the Season of Lent were called upon to participate in the Shrove Tuesday festivals.
Unfortunately, the Church has lost its influence over Mardi Gras in most areas of the Western World. But, we still call on our congregations to observe a Holy Lent. Today, we focus on our individual relationships with God through a focused spiritual practice, often choosing to give up (fast) something and to give of ourselves in some way to love others for the cause of Christ. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan. Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter”, a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. On Ash Wednesday we use burned Palm branches (from the previous year’s Palm Sunday Celebration) to make the sign of the cross on our foreheads as an outward sign of our sorrow and repentance for our sins.
The week leading up to Easter is called Holy Week. It begins with Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem and ends with Easter Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and our opportunity to share in Christ’s glorious everlasting life. Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday, a celebration of the Last Supper, and Good Friday, a day of solemnity when we remember the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord. At our church we offer special services on all of these Holy Days as well as a weekly luncheon on Wednesdays that inspires us to continue to participate in prayerful reflection, repentance, and to be prepared for our greatest day of the year: Easter! You can see the date and time for these services on the adjacent page and all persons are invited to participate in these wonderful opportunities. I pray that you and your family will find a way to celebrate this holy time.