Lent

Lent

The season of Lent begins during late February or early March and is the period of forty days before Easter, from Ash Wednesday until the day before Easter Sunday. Lent is a serious time but Sundays are always a day of celebration in the Christian church and so they are not included in the forty days of Lent. It is a serious and thoughtful festival, a season for reflection and thinking about the things we have done wrong and what we should do better in the future.

In the early years of Christianity, Lent was a season of preparation for new Christians who were going to be baptised on Easter Eve. It was a time for those who had already been baptised to renew the promises they had already made. It was also a time for those separated from the Church due to sin to prepare to be welcomed back into the Church’s fellowship.

Purple altar clothFor the Christian today the most obvious meaning of Lent is one of preparation for Easter. Christians remember how Jesus spent forty days and nights alone in the desert being tempted by the Devil. Jesus used this time to prepare for his work by fasting and praying. As Jesus fasted and prayed, so during Lent many Christians fast, not eating certain foods, particularly things they enjoy like chocolate, and spend extra time praying. Forty had an almost mystical meaning in the Old Testament. The Jews wandered for forty years in the wilderness, several of the Kings apparently reigned for forty years, (David and Solomon among them), and Moses even assumed the leadership at forty years old. Moses also fasted forty days and nights twice when the Ten Commandments were given.

Along with many churches, St James offers a Lent course together with extra services. These are opportunities to reflect, ponder and take stock. The characteristic features of Lent are self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study and preparation. Various things happen in churches during Lent. At worship, music is especially restrained. The Gloria, 'Glory to God in the highest', is not sung and neither is the word 'alleluia'. There are no flowers in church. The church colour for the season of Lent is purple which is associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion during Lent.  

PancakeSpecial Days during Lent

• Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is set aside for repentance and absolution in preparation for Lent. Shrive is an old English word and originally Shrove Tuesday was the day when Christians were 'shriven' or absolved of their sins after confessing them to a priest. The custom grew up of having a fling before the confession and so all sorts of parties became the usual thing. As Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up, so Shrove Tuesday was the last chance to indulge, and to use up the foods that weren't allowed in Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during Lent. Nowadays not many people observe Shrove Tuesday except in a very secular way.
Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday and the first day of Lent.
Mothering Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Lent and used to be called 'Refreshment Sunday'.
• Passion Sunday is the fifth Sunday in Lent when Passiontide begins and we begin to concentrate our thoughts on the Passion or suffering of Jesus. The story of Jesus' crucifixion is also known as the Passion.

Jesus carrying his crossHoly Week is the last week of Lent, the most solemn week of the Christian year, in which we recall the final week of the mortal life of Jesus with his suffering and death. Holy Week takes the Christian through Christ's own journey, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through to the empty tomb of Easter Day. There are special services held only in this week and on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Holy Week Compline (Night Prayer) is held.
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and the first day of Holy Week. It celebrates Jesus' triumphant entry, on the back of a donkey, into Jerusalem where later he would be arrested and crucified. 
Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, is the day before Good Friday and celebrates the Last Supper of Christ and his disciples. 
Good Friday remembers the day on which Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross, the day after Maundy Thursday and two days before Easter Day. 
Holy Saturday is the day after Good Friday. It is the Saturday before Easter, the last day of Lent and is the day when Christ's body lay in his tomb.