Today is known as Quinquagesima Sunday, reminding us that it is now fifty days before the Easter Day. This means that Lent will begin on the Wednesday of this week which is called Ash Wednesday. Lent, itself, known as Quadragesima (Fortieth), is the period of forty days preceding Easter (excluding Sundays) which represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the austere spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection. Lent period, which begins from the Ash Wednesday and ends on the Saturday of the Holy Week, therefore lasts for forty-six days, inclusive of the Sundays.
WHAT IS LENT?
Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring” and can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Lent is thus marked with meditation, penitence, self-denial and spiritual discipline geared towards growth and total transformation into the likeness of Christ – a process known as theosis in the Eastern Church, which St. Athanasius describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are also observances traditionally associated with Lent. The fasting of lent is, both from food and festivities. It is a “low” period.
In reflection of the Old Testament people’s fasting and repentance in sackcloth and ashes (Est. 4:1-3; Jer. 6:26; Dan. 9:3), Lenten observances have, over the Centuries, developed a “sacramental” (symbolic) value, which starts with the application of the ash on the Ash Wednesday and ends with the Holy Week’s devotional commemoration and dramatization of the Lord’s Passion and Death, including the Stations of the Cross. It has become a solemn religious observance in the Church liturgical calendar by which the church man prepares for Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortification of the flesh, repentance of sins, etc. The early church used lent to prepare new converts for baptism. It became for all Christians, a special time of self-reflection and repentance when a literal “turn around” and realignment of lives are deliberately sought, with a special focus toward God, coming to the point of renewal of the Baptismal covenant/vow at Easter. It is a time of self-discipline to give up things as well as take on new life-giving practices by which distractions and self-desires can be rid of. By so doing, the Christian seeks to live and love as a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
OBSERVANCE OF THE HOLY LENT
As lent starts this week, every Christian is required and requested to join in the observance of the Holy Lent for a spiritual transformation. Most established churches will be holding Ash Wednesday Service on Wednesday to kick of the lent, and subsequently, other Lenten Services, Meditations, Studies, Teachings, Retreats and other forms of rejuvenating gatherings and Programmes, culminating in the Holy Week activities. The Holy Week for the year will hold in the week between Sunday, April 14 (Palm Sunday) and Sunday, April 21 (Easter Day).
Christians should ascertain the scheduled times of the nearby churches and avail themselves of these programmes and their spiritual benefits, and as well, utilise this Lententide for their personal spiritual development as they prayerfully and heartily observe the Holy Lent. There are no prescribed particular ways of observing lent. Everyone should, by sincerely engaging in the general Lenten pieties and activities such as Bible reading and meditation, prayers, fasting, almsgiving, rendering services, etc., develop such virtues, confront his/her sinfulness, remembering his/her mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation he/she receives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This ensuing 40-day journey called Lent is a wonderful opportunity to grow in your faith. Find your path of self-reflection and spiritual discovery, and invite others to join you as you seek to observe the Holy Lent.
Ven. Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba
Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre,
Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.