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What is Lent?

Lent 4Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, the day of Mardi Gras.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the 40 days of Lent (not counting Sundays). 

Did you ever wonder what these terms mean?   Well, here’s the scoop!

Mardi Gras – is a French word pronounced: märd grä, the last day before the fasting season of Lent.  It is the French name for Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Literally translated, the term means “Fat Tuesday” and is so called because it represents the last opportunity for merrymaking and excessive indulgence in food and drink before the solemn season of fasting.

Ash Wednesday – is the first day of Lent.  On this day, ashes are placed onto the foreheads of the faithful to remind them of Christ’s death, of the sorrow one should feel for their sins, and of the necessity of repenting, which is turning from your sins and turning to God.

Ash Wednesday, is so called from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence.  The ashes are obtained from burned palm branches from the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

The ashes are placed onto the foreheads of the officiating clergy, and the congregation, while saying: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Many believe the practice of placing ashes onto the forehead began in 1091 A.D. by the Roman Catholic Church.  However, the custom of placing ashes onto the head as a sign of repentance dates back to Old Testament times:

“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Daniel 9:3-5

See also, Esther 4:1-3, Job 2:8; Job 4:2-6, and Isaiah 58:5.


Lent– from Old English ‘lencten=spring’, Latin ‘Quadragesima’.

In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for, or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the 40th weekday before Easter.  Of the Sundays in Lent the fifth is Passion Sunday and the last is Palm Sunday.

The week preceding Easter is Holy Week. Lent ends at midnight, Holy Saturday.

Lent may also have a parallel in the Jewish Omer, the interval between Passover and Shavuot that has become a time of semi-mourning and sadness.  During the weeks of the Omer period, Jews in some communities refrain from wearing new clothes and there are no marriages or other public festivities.

Although we are almost to the beginning of this special season, remember that Jesus wants all of our hearts and lives–everyday–not just during the 40 days of Lent.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14.

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