Area churches celebrate 40 days leading up to Easter

Published 12:01 am Saturday, February 9, 2008

VIDALIA — Generally known as a season of sacrifice, Lent should be a season of personal reflection, area ministers said.

The Lenten season — which began this week with Ash Wednesday — is the 40 days excluding Sundays leading up to Easter.

“It is a season of preparation for Easter,” said the Rev. Barry Dennis, pastor of the Vidalia and Sevier Memorial United Methodist Churches. “It is a time that we make special sacrifices and also participate in special ministries as individuals.”

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The Rev. David O’Connor at St. Mary Basilica said he challenges his congregants to use the season as a time of personal review.

“It’s like looking at their spiritual mirror and serious thought to what changes they might make in their lives to become a better son or daughter of God,” O’Connor said. “It’s a time to do some penance, to turn away from their sinful ways and maybe a time to focus on good deeds.”

Though the devout may take some extra spiritual tasks to show devotion during the season — Dennis mentioned reading the Bible more as an example — the best-known tradition of Lent is fasting.

In Catholic tradition, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are fast days, and the faithful refrain from eating meat on Fridays.

But through the years the church decided that fasting — eating only one full meal a day and refraining from eating meat — wasn’t that much of a penance, O’Connor said.

“The vast majority of adults don’t eat much more than that,” O’Connor said.

The penitent are now encouraged to choose a penance — in the case of Lent, by a 40 day fast — that is true to them.

“There are many different ways people may choose their penance,” O’Connor said. “For example, if they enjoy a pipe or cigar in the evening, they might just quit cold turkey for Lent.”

The season lasts 40 days because of the biblical theme of the number 40 used in times of preparation, such as the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness or the 40 years Moses spent in the desert.

“It is a symbolic rather than numerical meaning,” O’Connor said. “Theologically, Lent is a fast in preparation for a big feast.”

And, for Dennis, the symbolic meaning is what makes the season important.

“We seek to draw closer to Christ during this time, so as I say to my congregation — it is a season in which we all need to look inward and do those things that we can to improve that relationship,” he said.