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Season of Lent begins Wednesday

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of fasting and preparation for the Holy Week of Easter.

“Lent is a period of 40 days that is bounded by Ash Wednesday and Easter,” said Father Larry Shinnick of St. Leo’s Catholic Church of Demopolis. “To the best of my knowledge, it is observed by all Catholics and some Protestant denominations.

“The Lenten season is to help us remind ourselves that, just after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the very next thing He did was go into the desert for a period of 40 days, where he was confronted with Satan, who encouraged Him to, in a sense, turn His back on His baptism and participate in the desires of Satan.

“Obviously, Jesus refused to do that,” he said, “and that’s how that Lenten period of 40 days conceptually wound its way into the church.”

Lent is a way for believers to imitate that period that Jesus spent in the desert resisting temptation.

“It has broadened and expanded from that period of time to introduce to us a need on our part to distinguish who we are as persons — that biological aspect of us and that spiritual aspect of us,” Shinnick said. “The soul that we refer to as the principle of life goes on for eternity, to either be with God throughout eternity or to be without God for eternity.

“One of the reasons that we participate in Lent is because it gives us an opportunity to experience the triumph of our soul, our spiritual life, over our biological life. We restrict and diminish our biological — or personal, bodily pleasures — during this period of 40 days so that we might be strong enough to take up the cross of Christ and do His will.”

During Lent, observers abstain from something — a food, habit or something else that is enjoyed — as a means of cleansing and preparing for the celebration of the Holy Week.

“One of the things that Catholics do in Lent is — on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday — to give up the eating of meat,” Shinnick said. “Some Catholics — not all; it’s not a demand, but it is certainly a strong recommendation — give up the eating of meat on every Friday during Lent.”

People know that Carnival in Rio De Janeiro is a part of the pre-Lenten celebration, similar to Mardi Gras. The word “carnival” comes from the practice of abstaining from eating meat, as it comes from two Latin words: carne, meaning “meat,” and vale, meaning “farewell.” While we think of a carnival as a fair or festival in general, it comes from the Lenten practice of saying “farewell” to meat.

“During the 40 days of Lent, Catholics are encouraged to come on Ash Wednesday to receive the ashes,” Shinnick said. “The ashes are applied by a priest who expresses the words: ‘Remember, man, thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.’

“That is to ask us to remember and take into our deep consciousness who we are, that we’ve been created by Jesus, by God, from nothing, using dirt to create us.

“We are encouraged, as Catholics, to eat one main meal per day during Lent and two very much smaller meals which, when taken together, would equal one meal. The idea is to challenge the body — the physical, the biological self — to remember that it will find itself one day returning to dust, the dirt, and it is the soul that will be with or without God forever. The best way to be assured of being with Him forever is through the self-effacement of the biological demands during our earthly life.”

We know about Mardi Gras — the celebration, the fun and festivity. The celebration is really a preparation for the season of Lent, which begins the day after Mardi Gras.

Through the surrender of the earthly pleasures, believers improve on their spiritual beings with the hope of being closer to Christ, bringing their souls closer to spending eternity with God.