Today is Ash Wednesday, which means it’s Lent – “ … to whom and for how long”, as the old honeymoon joke punch line goes – the period of preparation for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.
Hey … as the Cheers character Carla Tortelli pointed out “It’s not a religion for wusses”
This year even Benedict XVI has decided to give up being Pope!
Unlike the sensible Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement in the Jewish faith, Lent is a forty-day period. No doubt in keeping with Catholics love of mysteries, (e.g. the Holy Trinity with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being three distinct persons yet one “substance, essence or nature”), in the Roman Catholic Church Lent is now 44 days in total. Starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Thursday rather than Easter Eve, and hence lasts 38 days excluding Sundays.
My personal tradition, as a good Catholic lad, for more years than I can recall, is to give up coffee for Lent. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I still hold-off until Easter morning. I’m not a terribly big consumer of coffee, but it is still a bit of a chore. I remember one year at Lent I was working in a very coffee-rich office environment and had increased my intake. The caffeine withdrawal headache lasted two weeks.
At Yom Kippur Jews traditionally greet each other with “Have an easy fast”, or some variation thereof. We Catholics are just a little too much into the suffering aspect of Lent to dare wish one another an “easy Lent” – that would defeat the purpose!
Actually in recent years an emphasis has been put on doing positive things during Lent rather than just giving up something you enjoy. Community work or just a “daily good deed” seems like better preparation for Easter than going without Jelly-Belly jelly-beans or M&Ms.