Think about those times in your life when you have felt inspired to something really great. Where does that inspiration come from?
The Holy Spirit. God inspires us to do great things with our lives.
----Matthew Kelly

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Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, just a Catholic empty-nester trying to figure it all out. The views on this blog are my own.

If Lent isn't Biblical, Why Do We Observe It?

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Is Lent Biblical? I saw someone's Instagram post right as Lent began announcing that he was not observing Lent because it isn't Biblical. My first reaction: Of course it is. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to prepare for "training, testing and preparing for something incredible" (Fr. Mike Schmitz) before he began his public ministry.  In addition, Lent is also 40 days because that is how long Moses stayed on the mountain (Exodus 24:18), and how long it took Elijah to travel to Horeb where he encountered the Lord. (Kings 19:8). So if Lent isn't biblical, why do Catholics, along with some denominations, observe it as one of the holiest seasons of the liturgical calendar?

The early Church had those preparing to come into the Church at Easter take 40 days before Easter to train, test, and prepare themselves. As Catholics Christians, I believe we are called to observe Lent to prepare ourselves each year for Jesus' death and resurrection. At the end of every Mass, we are called to go out and evangelize, to do our sort of public ministry. It will look differently for each of us, depending on our vocation. Lent is a way for us to rekindle and "re-arm" ourselves for our ministries. For me, it is a time of reading and studying, reflection and fasting. By the time Easter rolls around, I feel armed to take on questions and discussions that may be asked of me during other times of the year. Lent is my 40 days in the desert.

Be careful what you hear

I watched a Youtube video that supposedly quoted the Catholic Encyclopedia. The quote:
the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ...One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God's will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in all their hearts.
Sounds good, right? Completely makes sense. There wasn't a page number or a link to the source, and when I looked for it online, I couldn't find what he quoted. It isn't under "Lent", anyway. For some reason, the guy interpreted the passage to say self-purification, which it doesn't say at all. He goes on to say that Ash Wednesday isn't biblical because ashes aren't in the bible. (I think he needs to spend more time reading the Good Book!) He continues that it's on Wednesday because that day is named after Odin, a pagan god. But...aren't most (if not all) Christian holidays originated from pagan holidays? At least, the day that they are celebrated are. But that's a post for another day. Another error in the video: He says that in 8360, the Council of Leaticia (Spelling is probably incorrect)officially commanded the observance of Lent. Does anyone else see a couple of problems with this? First off, 8360 is over 6000 years away. The second thing is that there has been no Council by that name. (Find a list of Ecumenical Councils from The Catholic Encyclopedia here.) The First Council of Nicaea formalized the practice in 325. ( And people are actually paying this guy (whose channel is called "UNLEARN the lies") to spread untruths!

Ashing It Out

I think we all know that the ashes have biblical roots. The Huffington Post, in an article about Ash Wednesday, says ...there is no mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible. But there is a tradition of donning ashes as a sign of penitence that predates Jesus. In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are other associations of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. By the 10th century, the monk Aelfric tied the practice, which dates to the eighth century, to the period before Easter, writing, “Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.” By the 11th century, the practice was widespread throughout the church — until Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, threw the practice out in the 16th century because it was not biblically based. There’s no Lent in the Bible, either, though many Christians see it as an imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and battling with Satan in the desert.
Life Teen blog post indicates 40 passages from the Bible referring to ashes. The post also states that people have been receiving ashes for over 1200 years on dies cinerum (day of ashes). Ash Wednesday comes from the Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. (Catholic Online)

The Short and Long Answer

So the short answer would be that Lent is not specifically found in the Bible, but the long answer is "yes, Lent is Biblical, along with the Catholic Traditions". Not only does the Church rely on the Bible, but also on Traditions.
Joel 2:12-13:
Yet even now-oracle of the Lord-
   return to me with your whole heart,
   with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
   and return to the Lord, your God.
For he is gracious and merciful,
  slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, 
  and relenting in punishment.
As Saint John Paul II said, "We are an Easter people". Even if Lent has pagan roots and isn't Biblical, as long as it brings us closer to God and more spiritually mature, is that a bad thing?

1 comment:

  1. Great points, Mary. It is interesting to note, that the reformation idea of "sola Scriptura" is neither explicitly nor implicitly described in the Bible.


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