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By Jim Dallman
Special to The PREVIEW
Lent is the holiest season of the entire Christian year. Yet, in recent years there has been a dramatic decrease in the awareness and knowledge of what Lent is all about. A brief review of the most important features of the season will hopefully reawaken believer’s engagement with the Lenten observances.
Ash Wednesday offers worshippers the opportunity to silently and reverentially begin the penitential season. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, believers go to their place of worship for divine services and take parting the tradition of the imposition of the ashes. As the ashes are placed on their forehead, the worshippers are reminded: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and then challenged: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”
The 40-day observance recalls the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness when he withdrew from his disciples and with constant prayer and fasting prepared himself for his passion. During the 40 days, Christians are invited to engage in the rigorous observance of the Christ’s death and resurrection, which culminates with services on Good Friday and Easter.
In the early days of the church, the 40 days were also important for another reason. The men and women who wished to join the church — new converts called Catechumens — were required to complete a demanding program of study and spiritual development intended to prepare them for baptism and for their uplifting reception into the church on Easter Sunday.
One of the oldest, best-known and most widely practiced traditions during Lent is the devotions and prayers of the Stations of the Cross — also known as The Way of the Cross. The stations are composed of 15 steps that retrace Jesus’ sorrowful journey to Calvary — the site of his crucifixion and death. At each station, the worshippers offer prayers, scriptural readings and hymns sung in reverence to the Lord’s suffering.
Along with the Stations of the Cross, another old Lenten tradition has been the practice of “giving up something for Lent.” Here, foregoing some luxury or pleasurable activity is undertaken as a form of penance. This activity is part of the greater overall Lenten discipline, which includes prayer, repentance, fasting, gift giving and different forms of self-denial.
Traditionally, the overall purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for the commemoration of the Passion on Good Friday, and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday, the former Catechumens, now baptized, are no longer aspirants, but are now full members of the church and accepted as participants in Holy Communion.
Today the Christian denominations that continue to use traditional liturgy (especially Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican/Episcopal and several others) observe most of the Lenten traditions. Other bodies who practice a less structured form of worship often use some or modified adaptations of the traditional observances. (Check with the local Christian congregations to find out their practices and schedules.)
Trinity Anglican Church (reformed Episcopal) will have weekly Stations of the Cross devotions, a three-hour Good Friday service, and will celebrate Holy Communion on Easter Sunday.
Call Rev. Jim at 507-0158 for details.