Sentinel Article
From the Vicar

Living Lent

At last the days are getting a little bit longer. The crocuses and daffodils are in flower (unless they were dug up by the squirrels during the winter) We can tell that Spring is on its way. It’s only six weeks until Easter.

The period of six weeks leading up to Holy week and Easter is known as Lent, probably after the Old Germanic word, lenct, meaning Spring. In the early Church people who wanted to be baptised were expected to undertake an intense period of Christian training at this time, including a programme of regular prayer and fasting, to prepare them for an Easter baptism. Eventually all devout Christians became involved in this time of prayer, almsgiving and fasting every year.

There may have been a Spring Fast before the coming of Christianity. By late February and early March the winter food stores would have been running low and it would often have been necessary to ration the amount people ate in order to avoid starvation. The Christian Church would have made this practice part of the season’s devotions in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

The day before the Lent Fast began, all surplus luxury foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products had to be consumed so that they wouldn’t be wasted. This festival was known in Britain as “Shrove Tuesday” – named after the private confessions that took place before Lent began . Often it was known as Pancake Day. It was the last day to indulge yourself in rich food. All over the Catholic world there were carnivals celebrating “Mardi Gras”, meaning Fat Tuesday.

The next day was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Like churches today, worshippers received ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance. The ashes reminded them that their mortal lives were only temporary, that they should count their blessings and live as God intended them to defore it was too late. Ash Wednesday was a fast day, as Good Friday would be a fast day at the end of Lent. The faithful were only allowed one meatless meal that day. Every Friday in Lent was a day of abstinence, when meat was not allowed.

Today many Lenten traditions continue. In church we worship more simply, with no Gloria, no Alleluias, no flowers and no church bells. Some churches still don’t hold weddings during Lent. The liturgical colour of Lent is purple, the colour of Christ’s pain and our repentance. There is an emphasis on prayer, self examination,
self denial and almsgiving.

Even some of those who never go to church find something to give up for Lent. In our society most of us are exposed to the temptations of rich food and drink although we know that too much is bad for our health. So many people abstain from alcohol, sweets or chocolate during Lent. Others choose a bad habit to try and break: whether it's swearing, gossiping, or losing their temper. It is really the mental attitude that counts: the determination to change what we don’t like about ourselves, and the self discipline to implement this change. Sometimes the change isn’t permanent and people resume their bad habits when Lent is over. Children have been known to hoard their sweet allowance during Lent and then eat them all up in one go on Easter Day, on top of their Easter eggs. But some behaviour therapists argue that six weeks is about right to shake a habit altogether if a person has the will power. We may surprise ourselves about how we can change, and help to change the world around us for the better.

John Brown