The National, Thursday February 27th, 2014
LENT, for members of the Catholic faith, begins next Wednesday, March 5.
It a time of preparation for the death of Christ on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
It is a period of 40 days of repentance, with prayer, fasting and abstinence, and confession.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 5), 46 days before Easter Sunday.
While Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.
The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday.
Many churches ask their parishioners to return any palms that they took home so that they can be burned.
After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them.
The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person’s forehead, says: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (or a variation on those words).
The distribution of ashes reminds the people of our own mortality and calls us to repentance.
In the early church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the church, would begin their public penance.
The ashes are a reminder of one’s own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.
The church emphasises the penitential nature of Ash Wednesday by calling Catholics to fast and abstain from eating meat.
Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday.
This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however, it is a call for everyone to take stock of their spiritual lives and should be done privately and not for everyone to know during the lent season.
As Lent begins, everyone should set out specific spiritual goals they would like to reach before Easter and decide how they will pursue them.