Lent: Just more Catholic stuff?

Well, it's Lent. At least I think it is. Seems like I read it somewhere. Or... No, wait, I think it begins tomorrow. I never know about that Catholic stuff, you know? Seems like not many other Christians care too much about it, either.

I grew up in a Fundamentalist church, one that encouraged me to cross the street if I saw a priest or nun walking toward me. And I did just that. I was an arrogant bigot, and all I can say in my defense is that I was young and didn't know better. But I thank God that he freed me from that sort of nonsense a long time ago. And yet, there's this Lent business. Isn't that as Catholic as priests and nuns?

As an "evangelical Christian," I haven't known much about Lent, and haven't cared. And I suspect that I have a lot of company in that attitude. But I'm having some doubts.

I think Lent is a 40-day period of fasting that immediately precedes Easter. It's 40 days in memory of the time Jesus was in the wilderness, and it's deprivation in memory of Jesus' experience in the wilderness and his death. (I think that's right, but someone will probably correct me if it's not.)

Lately, I have been thinking more about Lent. Not enough to practice it, understand, but enough to wonder if I'm missing something helpful.

It's a sad fact that most people who call themselves Christians practice their faith as though their primary guiding principal were their own convenience. It's like we give God whatever there is left over of our lives after we take care of things that are really important to us. God is certainly not central in this sort of life.

I wonder if that's not why we ignore things like Lent, which require us to voluntarily inconvenience ourselves, so that we might grow closer in our relationship with God. Lent's inconvenient. And, while we're on the subject, we might point out that God is, too. Right?

American Christians miss something of great value by living their self-centered, convenience-oriented lives. They miss intimacy with God. They miss many of the richest blessings from God. And they miss growing into a deeper relationship and a faith that they find deeply rewarding and profoundly meaningful.

Perhaps Lent isn't such a bad idea after all.

7 Comments

Dear Larry, I don't know about Lent being Catholic. It seems to me that it is within the Orthodox communities that Lent is really taken seriously. For myself there are almost no better times in the year than the seasons of fasting. They are wonderful opportunities to focus on spiritual growth and the practical denial of self. In my own Coptic Orthodox tradition we are encouraged to fast 210 days of the year, and this is not a legalistic requirement but a spiritual medicine that heals and strengthens the soul. I grew up an evangelical in the Plymouth Brethren and hardly ever fasted, but now it is something that still requires effort but is a blessing. I suppose it is like physical exercise. Very hard to start but it then becomes a necessary aspect of physical fitness. Before all of the great feasts we fast. And there is a benefit and reward in fasting, not legalistically and mechanically, but because it is a joyful offering of self to Christ and others.

Wow, with 210 days of fasting, you guys don't have much trouble with weight problems, I suspect. :)

Thanks for your response, and I both appreciate it and agree with it. I, too, have come to appreciate the value of fasting, along with other spiritual disciplines I never learned as a youth.

I doubt Lent is "just another Catholic thing." But you know how it is. To some folks, anything that smacks of tradition, liturgy, or formality is "that Catholic stuff." Catholics invented the Trinity, an array of other incomprehensible doctrines and practices, and probably the graduated income tax, in the minds of these people. I am beyond happy that God delivered me from such nonsense.

Thanks again.

Here's a little history on the development of the Fast and its place in the Church: (lengthy, but to the point, I believe).

The pre-Nicene calendar consisted of two annual feasts, Pascha (i.e., Easter) and Pentecost. These special feasts were celebrated in addition to a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. Both of the feasts had been derived from the Jewish feasts of Passover and Pentecost, with the exception that their observance was moved to the nearest Sunday.

By the middle of the fourth century (354 B.C.), the church in Rome had instituted a yearly feast celebrating the birth of the Lord. By 430 B.C., this observance had been adopted by the Constantinople, Antiochan, Alexandrian and Jerusalem churches.

The fourth century saw other additions to the original calendar. The Pascha feast was expanded to include Passion Sunday, Holy Saturday and Good Friday as important elements of Christ's death. Another significant development took place regarding the period prior to Pascha during which catuchumens (new believers) prepared themselves for baptism. The fast during Holy Week was a special discipline which would be accepted by every catechumen as they looked forward to their baptism during the Pascha feast. During the fourth century, the general congregation was encouraged to participate in both the fast and instruction of the catechumens as an opportunity to prepare themselves anew for the celebration of Pascha. As this custom became more accepted, the period of instruction and fast was expanded to 40 days in order to facilitate greater participation. This 40 day period became the basis of the season of Lent. By the sixth century, this period of preparation had become identified with Christ's preparation for the cross, centering on His 40 day fast and temptation in the wilderness. The observance of Ash Wednesday as the beginning of Lent began in Gaul during the sixth century, during which ashes were placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross as a sign of repentance. Although this initially included only those individuals whom the local clergy deemed grievous sinners, the practice quickly spread from England to Rome, and came to include the general congregation

A development took place among the Western churches which is believed to parallel the development of Lent as a 40 preparatory period prior to Easter. Advent seems to have been developed within either the Spanish or Gallican church as a 40 day period of fasting and preparation prior to the Epiphany or Christmas feast. This observance became customary throughout the Western churches, but was never observed in an equal manner within the Eastern churches, although many practiced some form of fast of varying lengths prior to the Epiphany celebration.

The calendar which emerged from the fourth century has been the basis of all contemporary observations of the Christian year.

So in other words: The "Reformation" which ushered in the split between "Catholic" and "Protestant" occurred 1000 years AFTER the widespread acceptance and establishment of the Lent tradition. Now THAT's a long fast!

Scott,

Good stuff. Thanks for posting it.

Perhaps we should think about Lent in terms of a Theology of Health ie: like Theology of the Human Body, but, bringing our body into the relm of "healthy dieting" since so many abuse the other 225 days.Studying the human digestive systems is awe inspiring. What better thanks can we give to God who gave us such wonderful bodies. Is there anybody out there looking at "Nutrition Theology" ? Percy
504 488 0980

Hi Larry -- I just wandered into this from your FB page.

I have only a brief comment: I actually think that Lent and other liturgical seasons remind us that, for Christians, time is a theological category.

Jesus was born in the fullness of time, we are people with an eschatological hope -- which means, we await on God to save at a future time, and time, memory, future and travelling/sojourning with God (linking our story in time with his story over time) are not inconsequential things.

I believe that conservative Christianity (in the States, at least) often ends up being most neo-Platonic precisely at this point. It treats the idea of God and the salvation message as if these are timeless truths, bobbing about somewhere immutably, linked to laws and mechanistic causal relationships. They reify God and take God out of a place where we can have relationship with him -- since, one only has relationship in the midst of time. God, in Jesus, took on biography -- which, of course, is simply a person's story embodied in time.

So, I do wish we would pay more attention to Lent, to Advent, to Pentecost season, and the rest -- it would enrich our theological and spiritual insight, I believe.

This stood out most starkly to me almost two decades ago when my Muslim friends were following the fast of Ramadhan and Eastern/Holy week happened to fall right in the midst of the Muslim fast. Ironically, they had a strong sense of a 'liturgical year' and, due to my lack of awareness on that score in those days, I was entirely clueless. One of them actually reminded one day that it was Good Friday. I was embarrassed and I vowed to be better about the whole thing.

Time as a theological category -- an important concept to ponder!

Hey Lindy,

I'm glad you stumbled across me. Your comment is fascinating, and I'm glad you posted it. I have long thought conservative American Evangelicalism is too detached from its historical roots and has become somewhat superficial in belief. You have given me some good food for thought.

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  • Larry said:
      Hey Lindy, I'm glad you stumbled across me. Your comment is fascinati...
  • Lindy Backues said:
      Hi Larry -- I just wandered into this from your FB page. I have only ...
  • Percy Mayeaux said:
      Perhaps we should think about Lent in terms of a Theology of Health ie...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Scott, Good stuff. Thanks for posting it....
  • Scott Foutz said:
      Here's a little history on the development of the Fast and its place i...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Wow, with 210 days of fasting, you guys don't have much trouble with w...
  • Father Peter Farrington said:
      Dear Larry, I don't know about Lent being Catholic. It seems to me tha...

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