Lent Blog

What is the true meaning of Lent?


When you think about Lent, what feelings arise in your heart?

Every year, Catholics all over the world attend Ash Wednesday Mass and anticipate the observance of the Lenten season with a specific mindset.

The meaning of Lent can evoke a variety of emotions.

Some Catholics view Lent as a wonderful time of rebirth, spiritual discipline, reflection on Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for us, and more intentional focus on their relationship with God. Other Catholics may struggle with the Lenten season, battling possible resentment of having to give up or add something new to their lives, or even feelings of shame or guilt that they can’t live up to the expectations the Lord asks of all of us during these 40 days. And of course, there are Catholics who only give up chocolate and don’t fully grasp the meaning and purpose of Lent.

Most Catholics know the basic facts of Lent:

  1. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday. Its duration is actually 46 days (instead of 40 days) including Sundays. Before the sixth century, Lent had been 40 days, but Pope Saint Gregory decided he didn’t want people to fast on Sundays since they are meant to be celebratory, thus reducing the days of fasting to 34 days. Around the 800s, however, the calendar got changed to make up the difference and truly emulate Jesus and fasting for a literal 40 days, allowing Sundays to be celebratory, also known as “cheat days.”
  2. Catholics aged 14 and up must abstain from consuming meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays of Lent.
  3. Catholics of age 18 to 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless exempt due to usually a medical reason.
  4. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. The smudged, black cross we receive on our foreheads symbolizes our grief for the things we’ve done wrong and the resulting division of imperfect people from a perfect God.
  5. Holy Thursday (also known as “Maundy Thursday”) is the day before Good Friday. It commemorates the night before Jesus died when He shared the Passover meal with His closest friends and followers.
  6. Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ death. It is a day we reflect on how Jesus’ death was a sacrifice on our behalf so we can receive God’s forgiveness for our sins.
  7. Easter Sunday is the joyful celebration of Jesus rising from the dead to give us the opportunity of eternal life.
  8. Overall, Lent is a time to reflect on our faith and deepen and strengthen our relationship with God.

Now that we have covered the basic facts of Lent, what does Lent really mean to you? How can you enhance (rather than dread) your own Lenten experience?

Father Mike Schmitz shares a straightforward method for approaching Lent in his podcast episode, “Preparing for Lent,” and how it can bring more value and connection to your Lenten experience. Will giving up chocolate for 40 days bring you closer to God? Unlikely. Father Mike encourages us to pick one thing in these areas and be intentional: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

  1. Prayer: Your prayer life should be personalized to you so it becomes something you crave in your daily experience. Whether you create a sacred space in your home to pray, take time to pray in your car as you’re traveling throughout the day, go to Church, or even visit the Adoration Chapel to pray… your prayer life needs to be a sacred time that works for you. You can bring your gratitude, your anxieties, and your prayer requests to God. Father Mike says that prayer can be a time to sit with Jesus and read the Gospels, or listen to them via podcast if you prefer. By being more intentional with your prayer life during the Lenten season, you will likely grow to enjoy it and look forward to maintaining your prayer life beyond Lent.
  1. Fasting: As Catholics, we are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When people think of the term “fast,” we typically think of food, hence the often stated, “I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.” There are other valuable ways we can apply fasting to our Lenten experience that don’t involve food. Fasting can involve any personal behaviors or habits that are detrimental to reaching God’s purpose for your life and becoming closer to God. Examples that Father Mike gives include social media and technology use. By identifying those behaviors, you can set aside time in your day to spend time in prayer or reading the Bible.
  1. Almsgiving: This is an area that tends to be neglected by many Catholics in the season of Lent. Since the general idea of Lent is having to give up something, we forget that we should take advantage of this time to share our blessings and bless others! Blessing others can be in the form of volunteer work or financial donations to the poor, but it can be as simple as making time to thank people in our lives for what they have done for us and/or continue to do for us. You need to be intentional and genuine with your almsgiving to make the acts you choose to be transformational in your life during the Lenten season.

Lent should be a wonderfully enlightening experience if you intentionally take the time to really invest yourself in the areas of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As you approach these final weeks of Lent with purposeful attention on these areas, you will not only have a greater appreciation for the extraordinary sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for all of us, but they will also bring you closer to God and to a deeper understanding of His incredible love for you.