What Is Lent – Explained
There are many here in Trinidad and Tobago who believe that Lent is something that Catholics do to try to cleanse themselves from the sin and debauchery they would have indulged in over the carnival season. They believe that Lent is a futile attempt by us Catholics, to make God – as it were – turn a blind eye from the wretchedness of our being. They believe that Lent is determined by when carnival is here in Trinidad and Tobago.
I am happy to tell you that all of the above are very inaccurate misconceptions, and are as far from the truth as the east is from the west. While Lent does start immediately after carnival ends, its occurrence within the Catholic Church is not determined by when carnival is. Rather the reverse is true; carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the world that host carnival events, is determined by when the Catholic Church observes Lent.
So then, what exactly is Lent? Let me try to paint two scenarios that I hope will shed some light on what this beautiful season is. Many of you would have passed by a store that had the sign “Closed for stock taking” displayed on the front window – right? What the store owners were doing was an inventory count to determine where they were stock-wise; and to correct any errors that were found. That’s one scenario. The other is this – the world’s fastest man – Usain Bolt – do you suppose he became the world’s fastest man by living a normal, ordinary life? Nope! He has a rigorous training schedule that he undergoes together with a supporting diet. he stuck to his vision, remained true to his discipline and training, and the rest is history – his competitors can only smell the smoke from his heels as he crosses the finish line ahead of them.
So from the two scenarios above, we can identify a couple points. The first as in the case of the stock count is to observe, measure and correct. The second is training and discipline – as in the case of Usain Bolt. These characteristics are pretty much what Lent is. It must be said that the practices and the disciplines of Lent should not be confined to the forty days of Lent alone. It is not what the Church teaches nor what She expects of her members. The practices of Lent will make us more faithful followers of Christ Jesus and are therefore practices that we should and the Church encourages us to practice all our lives. We should be constantly assessing ourselves – constantly taking stock of our lives as it were – and measuring ourselves, our spirituality to Christ. Matthew 5:48 implores us, “You must therefore be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Though in this life, we may not attain this perfection, the Word of God implores – almost commands – us to work hard and constantly towards it.
One of the mistakes that many Catholics make is to take seasons within the Church’s liturgical year as just season that come and go. We see this a lot at Christmas and Lent. At Christmas time, many are transformed from self-centered individuals into caring loving people. But when Christmas day is done, they go right back to their old self. Our churches will undoubtedly be filled to the brim, if not overflowing, come Ash Wednesday, and then very many will attend retreats in their droves, and then right after the season is done, you do not see them in church again until the next major season – Christmas. The Word of God in 2 Peter 2: 19 – 22 says this:-
and anyone who has escaped the pollution of the world by coming to know our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and who then allows himself to be entangled and mastered by it a second time, ends up by being worse than he was before. It would have been better for them never to have learnt the way of uprightness, than to learn it and then desert the holy commandment that was entrusted to them. What they have done is exactly as the proverb rightly says: The dog goes back to its vomit and: As soon as the sow has been washed, it wallows in the mud.
This may sound like a very harsh thing to say, but this is the Word of God speaking and it is all true. Many have discovered a treasure far beyond measure – a treasure in Christ Jesus, the Pearl of great price – and instead of hanging on to that absolutely priceless treasure for dear life, they trade it for hug’s food! They allow themselves to be seduced into thinking that the world has more to offer than Christ Jesus. They forfeit their rightful place as children of the Most High God and go chasing after illusions and looking for love and happiness and fulfilment in things and places that cannot give the true love nor happiness nor fulfilment that they seek. Through it all and at the end of it all, they always end up way short of their expectation with a sense of being used and dehumanised; but unlike the son in the story of the prodigal son who recognized that there was a better place for which he was created, and he made a decision to go back to that place, many do not come to that realization that there is a better place, a much better place created for them and they do not have to remain wallowing in the mess that they got themselves in, but rather like the prodigal son, they too can arise and return to that place that was created for them and fall into the open arms of their Loving Father.
This is what Lent is all about. It is about God giving us another chance to come right with Him. The amazing thing is that He is constantly giving us another chance because He loves us so very much.. Lent is about the call of the Lover to His beloved to please come home; to come out of the cold into the warmth of His eternal love; to come out of the darkness into His wonderful Light. That is what Lent is about and that is why it is so important not to live and practice the virtues of Lent only during Lent. For Christianity to make sense and if you are serious about your faith and your relationship with God, you must practice the virtues of Lent your whole life through. It is then it will make sense.
How are the days of Lent determined
You would have undoubtedly noticed that Lent does not begin on the same date each year. So you may beg the question, how is the commencement date for Lent determined? Well for starters, the date on which Lent begins each year is determined by what the date is for Easter Sunday.
Catholics and Christians believe that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which is on a Sunday. We also know that it was the first Sunday following the Passover feast. (Ref. Matthew 26:17, Matthew 28:1)
Determining the date of the Passover is not very straightforward. It should be on t he 14th day of Nisan, the Jewish month, and should also correspond to a full moon. This however does not always happen in reality. As such, there were instances when the Jewish rabbis had to announce when the Passover was to be celebrated. Now the Christian Church depends on the Passover feast to determine when Easter will be. Because of the bit of uncertainty of the 14th day of Nisan falling on a full moon, and having to wait on the rabbis to announce when the Passover feast will be, Christians came up with an alternative way of determining when Easter will be celebrated. It was decided that Easter will be on the first Sunday after (and never on) the Paschal full moon. Based on this full moon and without getting into the technical details of how and when the paschal full moon appears, Easter Sunday will always occur between March 22nd and April 25th.
Now with the date for Easter Sunday determined, Palm Sunday will be the Sunday immediately before Easter Sunday. To get to the start of Lent, you count six weeks or six Sundays before Easter Sunday – which will give you the first Sunday in Lent, then count four days before the first Sunday in Lent. This will give you Ash Wednesday, the first day in Lent. In Trinidad and Tobago, carnival is celebrated on the Monday and Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday.
To conclude, we saw that Trinidad and Tobago carnival does not determine when Lent begins. It is the reverse that happens
Lent is an absolutely beautiful and very important time of the year, where we – if we are truly open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit – will experience the mercy of our God.
So important are the practices of Lent to our “working out our salvation in fear and trembling” that for a serious minded Catholic and Christian, the practices of lent are life-long.
If you truly seek to live by the practices of Lent, the practice of repentance and conversion, you will become a much better Christian person.