Catholics’ tradition of annual fasting period also known as Lenten season will commence today with Ash Wednesday signalling the beginning of 40 days of praying, fasting, alms giving and total abstinence.
Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity, occurs 46 days (40 fasting days, if the 6 Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter and can fall as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March.
“During this period, believers are encouraged to focus on spiritual renewal and reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins,” writes Leah Marieann Klett, adding that Christians usually do so by going on fasting.
The Bible makes no specific mention of Ash Wednesday, but practices observed during the day such as mourning in sackcloth and ashes are found all throughout the Old and New Testaments.
In particular, Jonah 3:6 states: “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.”
The period of fasting for 40 days, on the other hand, is mentioned on Matthew 4, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the Judean wilderness, praying and fasting.
“Thus, the 40 days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan,” explains Klett.
The act of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers is known as a sign of repentance and humility. Although it was originally observed by Roman Catholics, even Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Protestant denominations are now practicing it.
“Oftentimes, religious leaders will mark the foreheads of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, while speaking the words, ‘For dust you are and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19),” shares Klett. “Traditionally, worshippers choose to leave the ashes on their foreheads for the remainder of the day as a witness that all people are sinners in need of repentance, and that through Christ, all sins are forgiven through faith.”
At the same time, ashes symbolise grief, so it’s a good way of showing how remorseful people feel for sinning against God and causing a division from Him.
Usually, fasting requires observers to abstain from food. But nowadays, Christians make personal vows of abstinence, such as giving up meat, chocolate, or carbonated drinks. Some make a vow not to indulge in gossip or simply practice greater humility.
Meanwhile, the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Msgr. Gabriel Osu said in a statement yesterday that, “Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection’’, the website said.
The clergy explained that, “In Catholic Churches all over the world, the faithful are expected to receive ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday as a sign of repentance. During the Lenten season, Christians are encouraged to intensify prayers, observe abstinence, fasting and alms giving.
“They are expected to draw nearer God through constant prayers, forsaking their sins and being at peace with fellow men. It is also serves as a reminder that we all came from ash and would someday return to ash.
“Here in the Archdiocese of Lagos, the faithful would be led into the Lenten season by the Archbishop of Lagos, His Grace, Adewale Martins at the Holy Cross Cathedral’’, Osu said in the statement.
The director of communications said the Lenten observance should not just end during the season, but “continue for the fruit to germinate and bear more fruits in our daily lives.’’
Osu enjoined all Nigerians to also use the period to pray for lasting peace and development in Nigeria.

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