LENT begins Days of Fasting in ‘Rome of the East’ as Catholics Observe ‘Ash Wednesday’

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LENT begins the Days of Fasting in ‘Rome of the East’-Mangaluru aka Kodiyal as Catholics Observe ‘Ash Wednesday’ (2 March)

Mangaluru: It was 6.15 am Wednesday 2 March morning, as I was about to get out of my bed, I got a call from my friend Priya Shetty saying “Good morning Alfie, how are you? Wish you a happy day and Happy Lent?”. I replied “Thank you”, and didn’t speak much on Lent. I have a feeling that my friend will once again call and wish me “Happy Good Friday” on 15 April 2022. That was a little bit of news on the lighter side of the vein to begin this column.

Let’s talk about Ash Wednesday- it is a Christian Holy day of prayer and fasting, and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence (40 days) before Easter, and you may encounter Christians, especially Catholics, wearing a smudge of ashes on their foreheads. That could be a bit startling, unless you know the meaning behind this religious practice. What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday — officially known as the Day of Ashes — is a day of repentance, when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God. During a Mass, a priest places the ashes on a worshiper’s forehead in the shape of a cross. The ceremony is meant to show that a person belongs to Jesus Christ, and it also represents a person’s grief and mourning for their sins — the same sins that Christians believe Jesus Christ gave his life for when he died on the cross.

Yours truly of Team Mangalorean attended the Ash Wednesday ceremony at Athma Jyothi Ashram, a Counselling and Spiritual Enlightenment house located in Souza lane, Kadri, Mangaluru, right next to my house, and run by duo Capuchin Friars/Fathers, namely Fr Dolphy Devdas Serrao and Fr Cyprian D’souza, where Ash Wednesday mass was celebrated, attended by a good number of Catholic faithful. Ash Wednesday is important because it marks the start of the Lenten period leading up to Easter, when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected.

Prior to commencement of the Mass, the priests and lay Eucharistic Ministers applied ash with the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the devotees attending the mass, as it marks the beginning of the Lent, the faithful were in a mood of repentance and prayer. The priest who makes the sign of the Cross with the ashes on the forehead of the faithful says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, or “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” It is important to note that ashes are a symbol of man’s mortality and represent an attitude of humility, sorrow, and repentance. Over the next month, devotees are encouraged to fast, pray, and seek repentance for their sins.

This ritual of Ash Wednesday had its origin around the eighth century and extends back to the custom during Biblical times of people humbling themselves wearing sackcloth and applying ashes on their forehead and body as a mark of repentance and penance. Ash Wednesday falls on a different day each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter. Ash Wednesday always occurs six and a half weeks before Easter. Easter will be celebrated this year on Sunday, 15 April. The ashes symbolize both death and repentance. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins, because they believe Christ died for them. When the priest applies the cross of ashes, he says to the worshiper: ““Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He also may say “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It is not required that a worshiper wear the ashes for the rest of the day, although many Christians choose to do so. However, dining out or doing non-essential shopping are considered inappropriate on Ash Wednesday.

The Lenten season has been considered as a period of fasting, penance and prayers. Fast and abstinence has been an integral part of the season of Lent. However, with the passage of time there has been considerable relaxation in the practice, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. Among the Catholics, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, those who are between the ages of 18 and 59 are advised to fast by consuming only one full meal and practice abstinence. The Church has not imposed on the Catholics any specific rules and regulations regarding abstinence. However, a person is encouraged to abstain from at least one pleasure-giving activity. Generally, people choose to abstain from certain kinds of diet such as non-vegetarian food, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. However, there are many Christians voluntarily undertake a complete or partial fast on the days of their choice, usually on Fridays.

Fasting and abstinence is recommended by all religions in some form or the other as it is believed that such practices help a person to grow spiritually. Besides, it also strengthens the will power and builds character of a person. It is also said that if a person habitually fasts, he or she may not easily become a victim of temptations and sins. Where do the ashes come from? Traditionally, ashes used on Ash Wednesday are gathered up after palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. They are then blessed before being used in the ceremony. Palms are used on Palm Sunday in many Christian churches to symbolize Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion. Residents of Jerusalem are said to have waved palm fronds to celebrate his arrival.

Can Catholics eat meat on Ash Wednesday? No. Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday. They also are expected to give up meat on Fridays during Lent. Catholics also are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday. Fasting means consuming only one full meal a day; two smaller meals that don’t together add up to a full meal also are allowed. Children and the elderly are exempt from the fasting requirement on Ash Wednesday and during Lent.

When can you wash the ash off your forehead? No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual. But some choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith. The forty days long Lenten season is a spiritual preparation for the great feast of Easter, in which the resurrection of Jesus Christ following his Crucifixion on Good Friday is being solemnly celebrated.

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  1. Fasting and praying were powerful weapons in the armory of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence.

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