Catholics and Christians around the globe began the liturgical season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Lent is a 40-day period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that allows individuals to reflect on the 40 days Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by Satan.
Many may be familiar with some of Lent’s common practices, but in this episode of The Newman Bond podcast, Chaplain Father Adam Grelinger and Emily Simon, assistant director of Campus Ministry and The Honors Program, take a deeper dive into the reason for the season.
“Ash Wednesday is the day that marks the beginning of the season of penance and prayer to help us prepare for Easter,” Grelinger explained. “It’s one of those visibly Catholic days, where Catholics normally go to Mass — many Christians, too, — and receive ashes in the sign of a cross on their forehead.”
The use of ashes has biblical roots. In the book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard that all Jews were to be eliminated by the king. When Jonah preached to the Ninevites, he, too, put on sackcloth and ashes.
“Daniel does it, Job does it. … It’s a sign of penance, but also a sign of death,” Grelinger added. “We put it on our foreheads to remind us that our sins have caused us spiritual death, and it’s a good reminder because we can sometimes lose sight of the gravity of sin.”
The ashes are placed in the sign of the cross to symbolize that by Christ’s cross and crucifixion, “we are saved by death, so the hope remains there,” he added.
“We do penance for the things we’ve done, but the cross will come on Good Friday [the day of Jesus’ death], which then ends in the glory of the resurrection on Easter and new life is there,” Grelinger said.
Simon compared Lent to the Catholic sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation when the priest or bishop anoints individuals on the forehead with a sign of cross with holy oil — a much less visible cross.
“Ash Wednesday harkens back to those big moments in your life trajectory as a Christian,” she said. “Part of the significance is that in those moments, Christ is marking you as one of his, but also indicates that you are going out into a spiritual battle.”
“Death is up upon us, but we are also going into the desert for 40 days to really prepare and to make room for Christ as we are marked with him,” Simon added.
Simon and Grelinger explored the Anglo-Saxon roots of the word “lent” and why certain practices, like wearing sackcloth, is no longer common practice. They also discussed the benefits of taking part in Lent, making sacrifices during the 40 days in the name of Christ and critiques Christians sometimes receive for participating in the season of self-denial.
“It’s a season to rid ourselves of the unnecessary things so that we can enter into the joy of what Christ has accomplished even more so,” Simon said. “This is not the time to take a diet and get ready for swimsuit season. But how does it help you engage the Lord and give through almsgiving, as a way of serving Christ who identifies with the poor, sick and needy?”
On behalf of the Newman community, Grelinger added, “We pray that you have a blessed Lenten season, that we continue to pray for each other that we can all have spiritual growth during this season of sacrifice.”
The Newman Bond — a university podcast
Know of a Newman student, alum, staff or faculty member who’s worthy of their own podcast episode? Submit your idea to our producers for the chance to be featured.