In predominantly Christian Philippines (population 114 million) – from as far north as Batanes to the villages of Mindanao which were baptized into the Cross, Lent has become a major portion of the people’s tradition and culture.
Lent, whose last week is popularly known as Semana Santa, is a 40-day season of prayer, fasting, and alms giving that began on February 22, Ash Wednesday, and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday, April 6.
On the first day of this period of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter, many Christians—the Catholics and Aglipayans included—allow the priest to mark their foreheads with ash in the shape of a cross, fast or abstain from certain foods or physical pleasures for 40 days.
The word “Lent” comes from the old English “lencten” which means “spring.”
In Middle English the words lenten, lente, lent are derived; related to the Dutch, lente, the German, Lenz, also meaning “spring.”
In Old German lenzin, lengizin, and lenzo are related words, which probably comes from the same root as “long” and referring to “the lengthening days,” as the earth moves from the winter solstice toward the spring equinox.
Why is Lent 40 days?
In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain.
The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the promised land. Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
Jesus spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
For many Christians, Lent is a time where they make space to pray, read the Bible and reflect on God’s love. This collection of Lent scriptures remind us that when we seek God, we will find Him.
For Lent, violet is the liturgical color and the color too of the stole worn by the priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Violet is a somber color which symbolizes, according to theologians, mourning, suffering, humility, regret, and the willingness to do penance, particularly fasting.
For some Catholics the prospect of 40 days of giving up something can be disconcerting..
Unlike New Year’s, Epiphany, Christmas, Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day and other pagan holidays celebrated by the secular, non-religious world, Lent is observed by zealous religious believers.
Some Church observers say people who observe Lent may be religious, dedicated and sincere—“but they are sincerely wrong.”
Some propose an examination of Lent, its practices and customs, its historic and religious origins,and its true meaning from the Bible’s perspective, not from the “traditions of men” (Mark 7:7-9).
Some Bible scholars say Lent was never observed by Christ or His apostles.
He commanded them to “Go you, therefore, and teach all nations…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
These scholars say Jesus never commanded them to observe Lent or Easter.
But he commanded them to keep Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.
In fact, during His last Passover on earth, Christ gave detailed instructions on how to observe the Passover service. He also instituted new Passover symbols (John 13:1-17).
Many theologians say Lent was not observed by the first century Church.
It was first addressed by the Church at Rome during the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, when Emperor Constantine officially recognized that Church as the Roman Empire’s state religion.
Any other brand of Christianity that held to doctrines contrary to the Roman church was considered an enemy of the state.
In A.D. 360, the Council of Laodicea officially commanded Lent to be observed.
Originally, people did not observe Lent for more than a week. Some kept it for one or two days.
Others kept it for 40 consecutive hours, falsely believing only 40 hours had elapsed between Christ’s death and resurrection.
Eventually, it became a 40-day period of fasting or abstaining from certain foods.
As the largest predominantly Catholic nation in Asia, Filipinos regard the Lent as one of the most important religious events when their religiosity is at its high as depicted in various traditions.
During Holy Week, Christians recall the events leading up to Jesus’ death by crucifixion and, according to their faith, His Resurrection.
The week includes five days of special significance. The first is Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ humble entry on a donkey into Jerusalem to observe Passover.
Holy Week is the most important week in the Church’s year, which chronicles the Lord’s Passion, the final period of Christ’s life in Jerusalem.
It is a time when Catholics celebrate His life, death and resurrection, remember His actions, reflect on His messages and recommit to living as His disciples in the world today.