The observance of Ash Wednesday starts the solemn season of Lent. It’s a time of reflection and repentance for Christians.
The season is ongoing for the 40 days leading up to Easter. It excludes Sundays.
Catholics and some Protestants fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, as well as Good Friday. They also go meatless on Fridays during Lent (but fish is allowed). They do this to follow Christ’s example of sacrifice when he died on the cross.
Here are five other facts about the season:
Traditionally, Catholics fast during the Lenten season in preparation for the sacrificial death of Jesus on Good Friday, “as a way to spiritually and psychologically prepare for that,” said Lara Medina, a Cal State Northridge professor who specializes in religion and social change.
“Fasting isn’t seen as punishment. It’s seen as a cleansing, of letting go, allowing oneself to take a step back and re-evaluate oneself, perhaps that’s the connection there,” she added.
GIVING UP LENT
It’s typical to give up chocolate or alcohol, but many people abstain from Lent itself.
A survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found that more than 75 percent of Americans say they don’t typically observe Lent.
In a news release, Scott McConnell, the organization’s executive director, said Lent seems to lack crossover appeal, unlike other Christian traditions such as Easter or Christmas. It remains a religious event, instead of one that appeals to the broader public, he said.
Among those who do observe Lent, common ways they do so is by abstaining from a favorite food or drink, and by going to church, according to LifeWay.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY VS. LENT
This year, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, clashing with the Irish-American tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage. That’s why some bishops are waiving abstinence from meat on St. Patrick’s Day.
Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino, which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for example, has issued a special dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day this year, allowing Catholics in the diocese to eat meat.
MILLENNIALS EMBRACE LENT
Although younger people are less likely to know about Lent, it’s members of the millennial generation who are more likely to say they are planning to fast, according to a 2014 study released by The Barna Group, a nonpartisan, for-profit organization.
Millennials, the youngest adult generation, are more likely to say yes to the ritual than their parents’ generation, the study found.
NOT JUST FOR CATHOLICS
Although Lent originated in ancient Catholic practice, it has played a central spiritual role for Protestants as well, said Philip Clayton, a professor at the Claremont School of Theology.
“In the 16th century, Protestants rejected many of the obligations of the Catholic liturgy, but they retained many Catholic practices as guidelines for the spiritual life,” Clayton said.
“Lent, like the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism, plays a central role in orienting our lives toward God,” he said.
Staff writer Stephen Wall contributed to this report.
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