During Holy Mass on Sunday, when the priest announces the advent of Ash Wednesday, many of us in Sri Lanka will know that this means Lent is upon us, but we might be a bit hazy on the details. The word Lent itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words Lencten, meaning ‘Spring’ and Lenctentid, which literally means not only ‘Springtide’ but also was the word for ‘March’, the month in which the majority of Lent falls.

While the term is not directly identified in the Bible, Matthew 4 speaks of Jesus’ period in the Judean Wilderness, where He spent 40 days and 40 nights in solitude, prayer, and fasting.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Thus, the forty days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of the devil. The season of Lent is a special time when Christians practise prayer, penance, sacrifice and reflection in preparation for the celebration of Easter. During this 40-day period, believers are encouraged to focus on spiritual renewal and growth, and reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins.

When does Lent start? It falls differently every year according to the Liturgical calendar, but this year began on February 10, known as ‘Ash Wednesday’. The Lenten season ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, which this year falls on March 26.

What actually happens during Lent? Symbolic of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, resisting the Devil’s temptations and preparing for his ministry, many Christians choose to fast from indulgences such as sweets, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, or even TV during Lent.

The eagle-eyed among you will notice there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday – 46, to be precise. This is because Sundays don’t count; each represent a kind of ‘mini-Easter’, and are considered a feast day to celebrate the resurrection.

So what should I give up? This one’s totally up to you – it’s not obligatory, though many Christians find Lent a great time to reset, and use the period of fasting to give up things which may have got in the way of their relationship with God. Others choose to pick up something, like doing an act of kindness every day, or committing to reading the whole of the New Testament before Easter.

The purpose of Lent is to prepare believers for the celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ through purification, self-denial, and prayer. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism.

Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or volunteering and giving of themselves to others. While some observers abstain from food, other believers make personal vows of abstinence during this day, such as refraining from meat or chocolate, vowing not to gossip, or practising greater humility.

During Lent, it is advisable to work to decrease the things that detract from your individual faith journey and increase the things that strengthen it. During this sacred time, it is good to reflect on your spiritual state, deepen your relationship with Christ, and thank Him for His tremendous sacrifice on the cross.

To deny
Television, or your favourite show
Gossip or destructive speech
Selfishness and greed
Coffee or alcohol
Sweets and desserts

To do
Volunteer at an aged care home or animal shelter
Spend time with the elderly
Donate clothes, food, or money to a local charity
Visit the elderly at a nursing home
Make a meal for a friend in need
Write a handwritten letter to a
loved one
Buy a stranger groceries
Take extra time before bed for prayer and reflection
Call your far-away friends and family, instead of texting
Memorize a Bible verse and repeat throughout the day

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