by Rev. Frank Logue
[Editor's Note: This article describes the practice of Lent in Episcopal (Anglican) Church. The practices in Episcopal church differs substantially from that in Orthodox Church and we provide the article only so you can learn the differences between the two. So, next time when you hear someone mention Ash Wednesday or Shrove Tuesday you know what it is. We burn the previous year's palms on Christmas Day during the firepit service, for instance. We have a 50 day lent and do not break lent on Sundays. (Fasting is broken after Holy Communion on Sundays.) So keep this in mind when you read the article.]
A Brief Introduction to Lent for Folks Who Are New to Liturgical Churches
What is Lent?
Lent is a season of preparation leading up to Easter. It is the forty days plus the six Sundays before Easter. For centuries, it has been observed as a special time of self examination and penitence. Lent is a time for concentration on fundamental values and priorities, and is not a time for self punishment.
If you have found yourself away from church and wondered about it another try, Lent is the perfect time. For centuries, Lent has offered a chance to try the fellowship of the church one more time. In fact, Lent developed as a way to receive people back into church. If you are questioning your own faith and wondering what you believe, this could be the perfect time to come back to church.
Throughout Lent, the worship services of the church take on a simpler tone, appropriate to this season. Crosses showing the risen Christ are veiled. The word "Alleluia" is not used in the words of the liturgy or hymns. These practices help the worshipping community to mark this season of renewal as a special time in the church year.
The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things and taking on others. Both can serve to mark the season as a holy time of preparation. Some examples of things people give up for Lent include sweets, meat for all or some meals, and alcohol. In most cases, giving up something for Lent can be made more meaningful by using the money or time for another purpose. For example, meal times on fast days could be spent in prayer. Another example is that if you give up meat during Lent, the extra money that would go to meat dishes can be given to a group, such as World Vision, which works to end hunger worldwide. Some things added during Lent are daily Bible reading, fasting on Fridays, times of prayer, taking a course of study related in some way to spirituality.
Note that the season of Lent is forty days plus the six Sundays. This is because Sundays are celebrations of Jesus' resurrection and are always an appropriate day to lessen the restrictions of Lent. So that if you have, for example, given up chocolate for Lent, you could indulge in a weekly candy bar on Sunday.
Lent is also an especially appropriate time for the sacrament of confession. While confession to a priest is not required to receive God's forgiveness, it can be a meaningful rite of reconciliation to God.
Special Days and Services
This is actually the day before Lent begins. The day is named for the "shriving" or confessing that was traditional on this day before beginning Lent. This day is also known as Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," because it was a time for eating the things from which one would abstain during Lent. Pancake suppers are traditional as they were a way of using up some of the ingredients not needed during Lent.
The first day of Lent is marked with a special liturgy. The theme for the day, though not for all of Lent, is that we stand as sinners condemned to die, but for God's grace. This is symbolized by the imposition of ashes on the forehead, with the words, "You are dust and to dust you shall return." In the Old Testament, ashes were a sign of penitence (feeling regretful at offenses) and mourning.
Ash Wednesday is one of two days of special observance (the other being Good Friday) for which fasting is recommended. While this usually refers going without food for the entire day, this practice is not practical for all persons, including, but not limited to, diabetics. Use your own discretion in determining how you can best observe this day.
Stations of the Cross
These are depictions of 14 incidents in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death from Pilate's house to being placed in the tomb. They are used for the service called the Way of the Cross, which visits each station in turn with a brief reading, response, collect and on some occasions, a meditation. This is particularly appropriate for Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent.
The fourth Sunday of Lent has long been observed as a day for completely relaxing the disciplines of Lent. It is also known as Mothering Sunday as this was the first Mother's Day and a traditional time for remembering your mother.
This Sunday before Easter is the last Sunday in Lent. The day commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem with a blessing of palms and a procession in which the whole congregation carries palms. The day is also marked by reading the story of Jesus' passion (the word used to describe Jesus' death comes from "suffering," which is one old meaning of passion). Some of the Palm Sunday palms are kept and used to make the Ash Wednesday ashes for the next year.
This is the Thursday in Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). The day is a time for remembering The Last Supper. The name comes from the Latin word "Maundatum" for "commandment" as Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment; that you love one another." This is marked with foot-washing as an optional part of the worship service for those who wish to follow Jesus' example.
At the conclusion of this service, altars are stripped of any ornamentation and crosses are removed or veiled to mark the solemnness of the occasion. King of Peace will hold a Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. on April 1.
The Friday in Holy Week is a time for remembering Jesus death. Traditionally there is a Good Friday service at noon as Jesus hung on the cross from noon until 3 p.m. There may also be an evening service. This is the second day of special observance for which fasting is recommended. One should use discretion in decided how best to observe this day. There is no celebration of Communion from Maundy Thursday until the Easter Vigil on late Saturday or early Sunday. However, it is customary in many churches to give out the elements of communion blessed during the Maundy Thursday service. King of Peace will hold a Stations of the Cross service at Noon on Good Friday.
The Easter Vigil
This service is appropriate from after sunset on Holy Saturday until sunrise Easter morning. This was the traditional time of baptism in the early centuries of Christianity. This service begins in darkness and a new fire is lit, from which the Christ candle is lighted. It signifies the light of Christ coming into the world anew at the resurrection. This service ends the season of Lent and begins the joy of the Easter season.
Fasts and Feasts in Mar Thoma Church: Fire for the Journey of Faith
There are a growing body of data from the causal conversations with members of the church indicate that approximately more than fifty percentage of members are not confident on the place of 'fast and feasts' in the liturgical life of the church.
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