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Ash Wednesday? Lent?
February 6, 2024, 1:10 PM

We are talking a lot about Lent, Ash Wednesday and Easter. Maybe you are wondering what all this means and why it is important.

Lent is a holy season in the Church that helps Christians prepare for Easter, but the Church has not always practiced Lent and Easter.

Much like the early Church had evolving practices around Christmas and Advent (you can read that here), Lent and Easter have evolved over the years.

In the 2nd century Church (what we now call the Catholic church) they began celebrating “Pascha” on 14 Nisan (a fixed date on the Jewish calendar) where they celebrated death, resurrection and baptisms. Every Sunday was (and is) celebrated as a mini-Easter.

In the year 325 Easter was moved to the moveable date we experience today. The way the Easter date is chosen each year is this: Easter is the first full moon after March 21. Depending on how quickly that full moon comes after March 21.

At this point, it is important to note that while there is an Easter celebration, Lent has not yet been established in the Church.

In the 4th Century, Constitine’s mother created more celebrations around the season after a visit to the Holy Land. At this point, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter became a part of the Church celebrations. season. This season was intended to be a season for people preparing for baptism.  Lent was calculated to begin 40 days, not including Sundays, before Easter. Note, at this point, Ash Wednesday is not a part of the celebrations. (We will talk more about Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday as we get closer.)

In the late 4th Century/ early 5th Century, Saint Augustine moved the practice of Lent and participating in spiritual practices for just those preparing for baptism to be for all Christians to renew their commitment to Christ.

But what about Ash Wednesday- the day that starts all of this?

The practice of Ash Wednesday began informally in the 6th or 7th Century and became mandatory for the (Catholic) Church. Ash Wednesday is a day to remind us of our mortality and our need to reconcile our relationship with God.

During the season of Lent, people have historically fasted or given something important to them up so they can use those times of temptation to lean on God’s strength to get through. Many Catholics still today do not eat meat on Fridays and instead eat fish.

For a large number of years, Protestant churches did not practice Lent. In the 1500s, some did begin talking about practicing Lent, but even into the 20th century Protestants were conflicted about practicing Lent because those things were “Catholic.” Now, many Protestants practice the season to reset and refocus their relationship with God in preparation for the Easter celebration. Sometimes people will give something up, others will take up a practice- all to help their relationship with the Creator.

However you choose to practice the Lenten season, we pray you find you relationship with God strengthened.