Ash Wednesday Musings
Growing up Catholic and attending Catholic school, Ash Wednesday always felt like a somber day of remembering one’s bodily mortality, e.g. “Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return,” and deciding which decadent treats (chocolate, soda, cake, etc.) you were willing to give up. For better or worse, the day became synonymous with dieting for many people, as the concept of self-denial centered around food and beverages. Some argued that you could have Sundays “off” while others insisted you must stick to it for the full 40 days.
Why the discrepancy?
According to Catholicism.About.com:
Lent, the period of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter, is 40 days long, but there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, and Easter. So how are the 40 days of Lent calculated?
A Little History
The answer takes us back to the earliest days of the Church. Christ’s original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.
Christ rose from the dead, however, on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians, starting with the apostles (those original disciples), saw Christ’s Resurrection as a new creation, and so they transferred the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday.
Sunday: The Celebration of the Resurrection
Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days.
Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count.
Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that’s how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent!
While I’m supportive of anyone using this time to deprive themselves of sweets (and lose weight in the process), I also love this idea from Aleteia.com:
During Lent we want to de-emphasize ourselves and emphasize our dependence on God. Almsgiving (materially sharing with those in need) is one of the three “pillars” of Lent. (The other two pillars are prayer and fasting.) We can give in ways other than money. In giving up things around our house that we don’t need, we can detach from “stuff” while helping others.
Here’s the challenge: During the 40 days of Lent, find one thing each day you no longer need. For most of us, this should be really easy. It could be a kitchen item, a jacket, a bike, an unopened gift hanging around. Go through your closets, drawers, basement, even the garage.
For me, it’s also about releasing old beliefs and thought patterns while embracing the knowledge that we are all children of God. With that in mind, here are some suggestions. During Lent 2017, let’s fully let go of:
- Comparing Ourselves to Others
Instead, embrace our individuality as creations of God. Celebrate the unique gifts He has given to each of us. Vow to use them in service to your family, friends, neighbors, community, country, workplace and/or business. Stop the comparison/jealousy game and recognize that we are all here for our own purpose. It has been said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I fully agree.
No matter how you honor the season of Lent, remember to express gratitude for all that you are and all that you have. Focus on your blessings, not your problems. By doing so, you just may find that God will guide you through every obstacle.