The 40-day period of repentance and fasting traditionally observed by Christian denominations in preparation for Easter begins Wednesday with Ash Wednesday.
By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for 40 days – a time of reflection and self-sacrifice.
The Rev. William Rosenbaum, pastor of St. Clement Roman Catholic Church, 114 Lindberg Ave., Johnstown, said Lent is a special liturgical season that the church gives us to prepare for the Resurrection.
“It’s a time of intensive preparation for baptism and it’s a time for us to change our heart, meaning that we do penance or almsgiving or extra prayer so that we can come closer to God,” he said. “If there’s something we need to change in our life that isn’t good, this is that time when we have the opportunity to do that.”
The Roman Catholic Church dictates that members abstain from eating meat on Fridays and that the faithful fast by eating only one large meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which is April 19 – two days before Easter.
“Lent is a time when people should be doing extra works of charity,” Rosenbaum said. “We also call for almsgiving – we don’t just give to a special charity or to someone in need, but we do that in a sense that it’s a sacrifice for us and we might do without something.”
Although the church doesn’t require members to attend Ash Wednesday services, most Roman Catholics make an effort to receive ashes.
The ashes symbolize human mortality.
“The sign of the cross of the ashes on our forehead is a sign that we are going to change ourselves inside, and it’s an external sign of what’s going to happen in our hearts,” Rosenbaum said.
Members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown will be distributing ashes Wednesday from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Central Park.
The Lenten season ends with the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday – or Maundy Thursday – on April 18. But some people will extend the period through Holy Saturday, April 20.
Easter will be celebrated on April 21.
For Eastern Orthodox Christians, regardless of church affiliation, Lent begins March 11.
Lent begins on “Clean Monday” and is a way of cleansing oneself of passion and desires.
There is no concept of Ash Wednesday, as there is in the Western rites; instead, there is an anointing of oil.
The Rev. Protopresbyter Robert Buczak, dean of Christ the Savior Cathedral, 300 Garfield St., Johnstown, said Great Lent is a period of time filled with moments when we can focus our hearts and our minds of the grace of God.
“It’s a time to for us to come closer to God, a time for us to pray more and to be more charitable,” he said.
“It’s a time to strengthen our faith as well as a time renewal and purification.”
There also is rigorous fasting in the Orthodox church that includes the 40 days of Lent and Holy Week.
“The Orthodox church sets the bar high, but also is very happy with whatever you can offer, whatever strength you have to fast,” Buczak said.
“Lent is more than just fasting from food. You’re supposed to fast from sinful passions – from what we see, hear and speak.”
Another part of Lent is almsgiving – helping those less fortunate.
“The money that we save not spending on food, we are to offer that to the poor,” Buczak said.
The fast isn’t broken until the reception of the Eucharist on the feast of the Resurrection, April 28.
Compiled by The Tribune Democrat