Many Christians throughout the world are currently observing the liturgical season of Lent. What makes this particular season unique is that its overall tone and ambience is somber. It is a solemn time that is penitential in nature. While its origins are predominantly Catholic, numerous Protestant faith communities have also adopted Lenten customs as part of their faith devotions. Lent is a time of preparation. It’s a time to examine the conscience and to ponder the sacrifice Jesus made so that those who accept Him as the Savior may join Him in heaven someday.
The Lenten season is a prelude to the great, festive and joyous celebration of Easter. At Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central focus. During Lent, the focus is on all of the events that transpired before that miraculous day. It is a time to ponder the suffering that Jesus endured for our sake, to save us from eternal separation from God. In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, and for most Protestants who observe the season, Lent lasts for 40 days. This timeline is symbolic of the 40 years that the people of Israel wandered in the desert. It also symbolizes the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert resisting the temptations of the enemy. Four Lenten customs have priority for those who observe the season. They include prayer, penance, fasting and almsgiving. Such customs not only help strengthen the soul, they can strengthen a person’s character, as well.
Lenten customs help us to seek forgiveness
In the modern world, relativism has taken hold. There has been an aggressive push from certain factions in society to convince people that absolute truth doesn’t exist. Such groups believe that truth is merely individual perception of reality. If you think something is true, then it’s true. Another, perhaps, more dangerous mindset typically accompanies relativism and that is the rejection of the idea that sin exists. If sin does not exist, then there is no need for a Savior. Christian beliefs are the antithesis of relativism.
Two of the main focal points in Lenten customs are prayer and penance. It helps us to become humble before God, to acknowledge our sins, and to seek His forgiveness. This, of course, is something that we who are Christian should do all year. However, the Lenten season is a time set aside to go deeper, to think and pray more, and to amend our lives. Many people include a special devotional prayer known as ”The Stations of the Cross” as part of their Lenten customs. In the Catholic tradition, this devotion is typically observed on Fridays, which is believed to be the day of the week that Jesus died on the cross. There are 14 Stations, each that call to mind a particular part of Jesus’s journey from Pilate’s condemning Jesus to die, to His death on the cross and burial in the tomb. Pondering these events at least once a week during Lent helps increase personal remorse for our sins and a desire to ask God to forgive us.
Fasting and almsgiving are Lenten customs to help us be less selfish
Have you noticed that there is a growing sense of entitlement among the masses of modern society? The practice of fasting during Lent helps to develop a sense of gratitude and strength of character. The idea is to deprive oneself of a legitimate pleasure as a means of thanking Jesus for His great sacrifice. This is why Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. However, any form of fasting is helpful. You can give up social media, for instance, or computer games or cosmetics or coffee or anything that you normally enjoy in your daily life. It’s especially beneficial to choose something you are greatly attached to, so that you will ”feel the loss of it” when you do not have it during the weeks of Lent. You can set aside your fast on Sundays, if you like, because Sundays are not a day of fasting.
Finally, another primary focus of Lenten customs is almsgiving. To give alms basically means to give food or money to those in need. You could give clothing or give your time and service as form of alms, as well. The idea is to increase the virtue of selflessness and to think of others’ needs. Again, these are things we should always do, but it’s helpful to have a season where we are reminded to make a concentrated effort to grow in our desire to give to those in need. One way to involve the whole family in the practice of giving alms is to set a basket or jar in a central area of the home. Label it ”Lenten Offerings.” Throughout the season, everyone can add money to the jar, then choose a charity or ministry to donate it to when Lent is over. This article provides wonderful ideas on ways to give alms, as well as additional thoughts and helpful information about Lent.
Get ready for Easter
You can create your own Lenten customs. Just keep the four central focus points in mind, which, again, are prayer, penance, fasting and almsgiving. Lent is to Easter what Advent is to Christmas—a time of preparation. It’s sort of like spring cleaning in a spiritual sense! We deep clean our homes and closets and yards and gardens and garages in anticipation of spring. So, too, can we ”deep clean our souls” in anticipation of the great celebration of Easter to come!