By Rev Canon S Sebastian Campbell
The church in her wisdom has divided the year into seasons so that we can have concentrated reflections on important redemptive aspects of our Christian journey.
Not to have this facility would have led to lopsidedness in our spiritual process; our human nature would lead to us over emphasising our biases; many aspects of divine mysteries would probably never been thought about.
The church’s (liturgical) year started with advent, four weeks before Christmas, this led into twelve days of Christmas which gave way to the Epiphany season.
Shrove Tuesday is the last day of the Epiphany season, the day before Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 5 this year.
It has many names: Shrove Tuesday, because on this day a priest shrove the people, that is, heard their confessions and forgave them their sins in preparation for Lent; pancake Tuesday, because in the days when not only meat but also eggs and milk were renounced for Lent, pancakes were an excellent way to use up eggs, milk and fat, hence, Mardi Gras, French for fat Tuesday; and carnival, which has been translated two ways, “solace of the flesh” or “farewell to meat”.
Whatever its name, this last day before the deprivations of Lent remains an opportunity to have one last exuberant party. This explains why carnival stops at midnight on Shrove Tuesday; those fortunate to have witnessed it in Trinidad and elsewhere can attest to this. As the party, music and dancing come to an end, it signals the start of a holy season, Lent.
It will pay if everyone can use wisely these 40 days to do personal inventory.
Yes the music, party and carousing ought to take a break sometimes in our lives, to allow for reflection.
Jesus found it necessary to go into a place of quiet for prayer and reflections, the wilderness; the gospel writers are very graphic in showing his time in the wilderness as a struggle with Satan. The point of the story is that Jesus was triumphant only because of the strong spiritual basis on which he stood.
The wilderness experienced allowed him time to be grounded in the word that he was able to use it as a weapon against the craftiness of the devil. Prayer, fasting and the study of God’s word can be intensified in our lives during Lent so that we might emerged strong to combat the many temptations in every day life.
Our word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten”, meaning “the time of the lengthening days” or simply “spring”. Lent as we know it now extends to 40 days, excluding the Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Easter. The last week before Easter is called Holy Week and is set apart for special emphasis.
The season actually grew by extension backward from Easter.
The beginnings of Lent are first mentioned in Christian writings about in 100 AD. It started as a brief period of strict fasting and prayer, observed by all, in preparation for the Paschal feast (Easter). The custom may have been taken over from Judaism, since it was once customary for Jews to fast in preparation for Passover.
It was used as a time of preparation for baptism for the new converts to Christianity. In 313 AD, when Constantine, the Roman Emperor, became a convert to Christianity and legalised Christianity it created a problem with new converts; they had to be taught the faith, because standards were becoming too relaxed.
Now the necessity for extensive teaching and increased discipline influenced the development of a longer period of preparation.
In 325, at the council of Nicea, the church word for Lent – Quadragesima, meaning a 40-day period – first appeared and was understood as a season of six weeks, beginning on what is now the first Sunday in Lent.
Sundays are not fasting days, but days of celebration, so Lent’s beginning was moved to the Wednesday before so as to make up for the “Sundays in Lent”, which cannot be counted as days of fasting or days of Lent. It is appropriate that on the first day, Ash Wednesday, we are called through the imposition of ashes to enter into a season of fasting and stock taking.
The colour most used in Lent is purple to signify penitence. Pray for a holy Lent.
(To Be Continued)