Lent is an extremely important season for the Catholic Church. First, it is a season, the Church leaves “Ordinary Time” and our clergy hang up their green vestments and put on their purple; signifying repentance. Lent contains the only day each year that Mass is not celebrated (Good Friday). Catholics put ashes on their foreheads, pray, fast, abstain from meat, and do many other things. The outward signs of Lent are unmistakable; but why do we do them?
Lent is a time for Catholics to imitate Jesus and follow him from the garden of regular life to the desert of self-denial and sacrifice. Jesus literally went to the desert in Mk 1:12-15 for forty days and forty nights. Here he prayed, fasted, and was tempted by the devil. Afterward, he was hungry.
Jesus did this just before beginning his public ministry where he spoke to the crowds, performed miracles, and eventually offered himself as a sacrifice for all of us. The time in the desert was a time of preparation for the work to come. If Jesus needed time out to pray and fast, how much more do we need that time?
Lent was a time of preparation for Jesus and it is for us as well. We prepare for the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper which we celebrate on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). As Jesus was hungry after fasting, we are hungry for him and he doesn’t leave us empty. Individuals coming into the Catholic Church use Lent as a final preparation. Candidates have spent months learning about our faith and on the Easter Vigil (Saturday before Easter) they will be baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist. Lent is a time of preparation of our souls as we repent for our sins. We remember on Good Friday that it was our sins that Jesus suffered and died for.
Lent is the preparation of many things, and the crowning of them all is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Lent has been around since at least the fourth century but the writings of that time indicate that the practice began with the apostles. The customs from place to place and from time to time have changed, and will continue to change, I imagine, but the basic idea of denying ourselves to take up our crosses remains the same.
I pray that you embrace this Lenten season, that you may grow closer to our God through your prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, and that you may see resurrection with Jesus on the last day.