Lent begins today for Catholics around the world with the Ash Wednesday mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the Vatican. But what do millions of Christian people commemorate during this time of the year?
Lent is a season of preparation, a time of reflection about what Catholics believe to be the biggest mystery of their faith and the central reason why they call Jesus Christ the Son of God, his resurrection from the dead. One of the most important times in the Church is marked on Ash Wednesday.
The concept of humans turning into ashes after their death is at the core of this day’s celebrations. Catholics attend church and receive consecrated ashes, with a the sign of the cross stamped on their foreheads. Don’t be surprised to see people going about their lives wearing this symbol of their faith.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” the person distributing the ashes will recite over and over again, until everyone attending the Ash Wednesday mass has received the black powder.
Lent marks the start of a 40-day period, which is a commemoration of the number of days Jesus’ spent in the desert before he started his public life. During this time, the Bible says he was tempted by the devil and the Roman Catholic Church adopted the practice of fasting and repenting from their sins.
Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59-years-old are forbidden from eating any kind of meat on Friday during lent and traditionally give some of their favorite things up during this time. The elderly and younger children are excluded from this practice, as are people who suffer from serious illnesses. Other Christian denominations also use fasting during lent, but the rules are optional.
Some even decide to fast during the entirety of the Lent season, which goes from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, when Catholics believe Jesus resurrected from the dead. With the start of the season, the Church enters into a period of preparation to mark the crucifixion of Christ at the hands of Pontius Pilate.
According to the Bible, Jesus was betrayed by his apostle Judas, and handed to the Romans, who were concerned about his increasing popularity and the tone of his message. Mostly, the hierarchy was worried that the Jews they were trying to control, considered him to be their King.
Despite Pilate’s doubts, he went ahead with the arrest of Jesus and nailed him to the cross on what is now known as Good Friday. After three days he rose from the dead, proving that he was indeed the Son of God.
What will you be giving up this lent?
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]