In Europe today is not only ASH WEDNESDAY but also ST. VALENTINE’S DAY, when people send greeting cards bearing words of love and affection, and often unsigned – leaving the recipient to guess who sent it. Yesterday was PANCAKE TUESDAY when crepes are traditionally fried to use up the ingredients that might be tempting in the period between today and Easter.
I received this interesting explanation from Archbishop Russ, whom I have known – but never (I think) met since 2003. I found it very interesting:
Today begins the period of Lent. I have often wondered were the name “Lent” originated. According to my research here is the answer. For those of you not interested you may skip the next two paragraphs.
In the English language, Lent was formerly referred to by the Latin term quadragesima tanslation of the original Greek tessarakoste, the “fortieth day” before Easter). This nomenclature is preserved in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages (for example, Spanish cuaresma, Portuguese quaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima, Croatian korizma, Irish Carghas, and Welsh C(a)rawys).
In the late Middle Ages , as sermons began to be given in the vernacular instead of Latin, the English word lent was adopted. This word initially simply meant spring and derives from the Germanic root for spring (specifically Old English lencten; also the Anglo-Saxon name for March—lenct—as the main part of Lent, before Easter, usually occurred in March). In modern Dutch, the word for “spring” is still “lente”, while the 40-days fasting period is called “vasten”. The use of this particular term to describe the period at this point is unique to English.
Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles. (See The Apostolic Constitutions, Book V, Section III.)
As you know, Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days to prepare for his ministry. It was for Him a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation. By observing Lent, most Christians join Jesus on His retreat.
Lent consists of the forty days before Easter. In the western Church, we skip over the Sundays when we count the days of Lent, because Sunday is always the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the first day of Lent in the western Church is always a Wednesday.
During Lent, ancient Christians mourned their sins and repented of them with sack clothe and ashes. Therefore on Ash Wednesday, when we begin a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection we seek the face of God asking Him to show us our sin and repent in humility before Him.
As the Priest or Minister places ashes upon our heads we are graphically reminded of our mortality. “Remember O, Man Dust thou art and to Dust You shall return.” It is a dramatic reminder that we will all die. Only God has no beginning and no end. All we are will one day crumble and return to dust, THEREFORE, YOU HAD BETTER GET RIGHT WITH GOD AND DO IT NOW.
Traditionally, the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service come from burning the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. If you burn the palm fronds yourself, do not add any other ingredient—just burn the ashes plain. Add a little oil to the ashes so that they will stick to people’s foreheads. Of course, it is easier to purchase them from a religious supply house. Don’t overestimate how much you need! It is amazing how far a small amount of ashes will go!
Some people only celebrate the happy times in Jesus’ life: Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas. But I think as disciples, we should also watch and pray with Him on Maundy Thursday, stand by Him at the cross on Good Friday, and retreat with Him into the wilderness during Lent.
May this be a time that we all sincerely seek the face of God and ask Him to search our lives and see if there be some area from which we need to sincerely repent.
Archbishop Russ McClanahan