Wednesday March 2 is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent in many Christian churches.
In early Christian communities, people who had betrayed or denied their faith during persecutions (and later perpetrators of various capital crimes) were expected to carry sackcloth and cover themselves with ashes to symbolize their repentance and desire for reconciliation with the community. Christian. . In the Middle Ages, when the purpose of Lent became more penitential, the use of ashes became widespread among the faithful as a sign of repentance for personal and private sins.
The earliest evidence of the celebration of Ash Wednesday occurs in the mid-10th century; the custom was extended to the universal church towards the end of the 11th century.
The liturgical season of Lent developed in early Christian communities as a time of discernment and enlightenment for catechumens preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil; baptized Christians accompanied these people in this process as a sign of support and in preparation for the renewal of their own baptismal promises at Easter.
In the Middle Ages, the emphasis on the celebration or renewal of baptismal promises was eclipsed by the emphasis on personal penance and sacrifice. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the original emphasis on baptism was restored by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Today, the practice of Lent combines prayer, fasting and almsgiving with reconciliation and study or personal renewal. The season lasts 40 days (not counting Sundays) beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Maundy Thursday.
The season of Lent is observed in various Christian traditions, including the Anglican, Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches.
The schedule for Ash Wednesday and Lenten services in local Catholic parishes is available online at waterloocatholics.org/lenten-services.
An explanation of common Lenten customs and devotions is available online at waterloocatholics.org/lenten-customs.