This week marks the beginning of the Lenten period. Lent is a 40-day span before Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter. The six Sundays during this period are not counted because Sundays commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and are thought of as “mini Easters.”
Lent typically is regarded as a season of soul-searching, repentance and reflection. Christians who participate take inventory of their lives and attempt to improve their relationships with God. As a means of self-denial and sacrifice, many observers give up something they enjoy, such as a certain food.
Lent originated in the early days of the church as a preparatory time for Easter. The faithful rededicated themselves and converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the 40-day Lenten period, Christians imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for 40 days of praying and fasting.
Because Easter falls on different dates each year, the advent of Lent varies from year to year. This year, the Lenten season begins March 9 with Ash Wednesday and culminates Saturday, April 23, which is the day before Easter.
Members of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Hinesville, under the leadership of Father Thomas J. Murphy, once again are anticipating and observing the Lenten season this year.
“Catholics, along with many other Christians in the world, begin their Lenten journey this Wednesday, March 9,” Murphy said. “The book of Ecclesiastes proclaims, ‘There is an appointed time for everything.’ Nature has seasons. Our lives have seasons, and the liturgical cycle of the church has seasons. Now is the season for Lent.
“The tradition of Lent comes from the gospels, Matthew 4, i.e. when Jesus spent 40 days — a holy number meaning a ‘complete time’ to the Jewish people — in the desert fasting and praying. Jesus maintains a perfect unity (reference Trinity) with His Father in Heaven — all through the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“Christians, like their Jewish counterparts in the Old Testament, use ashes as a symbol of their mortality. Priests and other ministers of the Gospel furrow the sign of the cross (an early Christian custom) on the forehead with ashes praying, ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you will return,’” Murphy said.
He said the theme of the 40 days of Lent, culminating in the celebration of Holy week (April 17-23) and Easter (April 24), is “Prayer, fasting, abstinence, moderation in all things.”
“We are also called to be a generous people (alms giving), sharing our time, talent and treasure with others. Really, Lent calls to mind that which God asks us to do all year long,” Murphy said.
St. Stephen’s Lenten schedule is as follows:
• Ash Wednesday Masses are at 12:05 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9
• Confessions are at 4 p.m. on Saturdays
• Vigil Mass is at 5 p.m. on Saturdays
• Sunday Masses are at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
• Daily Mass is at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
• Holy hour and confessions are from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesdays
Murphy and the St. Stephen family invite the community to be a part of their Lenten celebration. For information, call the church at 876-4364.