The season of Lent begins on March 1, following Mardi Gras on February 28. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. Many denominations hold a service for believers as a way of beginning the season. Ministers bless each person and place ashes on the individual's forehead as a symbol of grief and remembrance of our mortality.
Although Lent is most commonly observed by Roman Catholics, other denominations do observe the season. There are many ways that people observe Lent. Some give up meat and rich foods such as sugar, eggs, dairy products and alcohol. Some Catholics will only eat one full meal each day, with two smaller meals as a supplement. The idea is to sustain your strength while not ever being full. In some Eastern Orthodox churches, abstinence from all animal products is common. Vegan meals are the only ones consumed during Lent.
Sundays are not a fast day during Lent, but most churches refrain from using the word "Alleluia" and saying the "Gloria in excelsis Deo." Religious objects in the church might be veiled or covered. This could include statues, crosses and artwork. Purple fabric is considered traditional, but black fabric might be used on Good Friday.
Instead of Penitence, Try Social Change
Traditionally, Lent was a season of self-denial, prayer, penitence and personal reflection, but in the 21st century, Lent is getting a makeover. The concept of fasting for atonement and suffering for the sake of suffering is not acceptable in today's world. Some Christians are changing the traditions of Lent to make the season more meaningful and effective.
Many Christians (and even non-Christians) are taking part in what's called a "carbon fast" or "green fast." By reducing energy consumption and fighting global warming, the fast actually means more than just individual suffering. Green Anglicans have a website that gives different ideas to be green during Lent.
Take shorter showers Fix leaks Give clothes away to the less fortunate Pick up litter Choose sustainable fish to eat Walk, bicycle or use public transportation to get to work Unplug all appliances
It's not easy to give up meat on Monday or say no to GMOs, but Lent is not supposed to be a time of ease.
Changing Your Attitude
Another idea for Lent is to give up complaining, sarcasm and negativity. It's called a "word fast." When you are positive and grateful through Lent, it changes your attitude. This is reinterpreting the Lenten fast to make it more encouraging toward real change in your life. Reducing stress and pessimism is good for your health.
Some churches are trying to encourage dialogue during Lent by "confronting the elephant in the room." One organization asked its members to give up alcohol through Lent, even though most of its members proclaim not to drink. Some of the individual churches discovered that alcohol was a bigger problem than they realized. It was an eye-opener that has encouraged discussion outside of Lent.
Voluntary self-denial is a way that we are reminded of our obsessions. When it becomes difficult to give up our electronics or meat, for example, we should take a look at why. Lent can be a time of reflection on our own life and where God, the church and religion fit into our family time. There are many different Lenten studies that can help you focus on one particular area for the 40 days of the season.
Lent is a time of repentance and self-denial, but it's not just about food and drink. Fasting for Lent because it's what your church does isn't a demonstration of faith. The fast must come from within your heart or it won't mean anything to you. Use Lent to make a positive change in your life.