Lenten Season & Easter
including Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter
Lent, in Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.
ORIGINS OF LENT
The Lenten semi-fast may have originated for practical reasons: during the era of subsistence agriculture in the West as food stored away in the previous autumn was running out or had to be used before it went bad in store, and little or no new food-crop was expected soon (compare the period in Spring which British gardeners call the "hungry gap").
STRUCTURE OF LENT
There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.
FASTING & ABSTINENCE
Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while others will permit fish, others permit fish and fowl, others prohibit fruit and eggs, and still others eat only bread. In some places, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal each day, while others abstained from all food until 3 o'clock. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without meat or alcohol was eaten. Even now, the Romanian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches continue the practice of avoiding all animal products including fish, eggs, fowl and milk sourced from animals (e.g. goats and cows as opposed to the milk of soy beans and coconuts) for the entire fifty-five days of their Lent.
CARNIVAL / FAT TUESDAY / SHROVE TUESDAY / MARDI GRAS
Carnival (Carnaval, Καρναβάλι (Carnavali), Carnevale, Carnestoltes, Carnaval, Karneval, Carnaval and Karnawał in Portuguese, Greek, Italian, Catalan, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and Polish languages) is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during January and February. Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, masque and public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning of daily life.
Carnival is a festival traditionally held in Roman Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox societies. Protestant areas usually do not have carnival celebrations or have modified traditions, such as the Danish Carnival or other Shrove Tuesday events. The Brazilian Carnaval is one of the best-known celebrations today, but many cities and regions worldwide celebrate with large, popular, and days-long events. These include the Carnevale of Venice, Italy, the German Rhineland carnivals, centering on the Cologne carnival; the carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands; the carnival of Cape Verde; of Torres Vedras, Portugal; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rijeka, Croatia; Barranquilla, Colombia; Haiti; Jamaica; the Carnaval and the Llamadas in Montevideo, Uruguay and Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. In the United States, the famous Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, date back to French and Spanish colonial times.
THE LENTEN SEASON HOLY DAYS
There are several holy days within the season of Lent.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. In the Western Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is a moveable feast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his or her own forehead and then on those of congregants. The minister recites the words: "Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return", or "Repent, and believe the Gospel."
The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother's Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. Laetare Sunday (pronounced /liːˈtɛəri/, or /leˈtɑre/ as in ecclesiastical Latin), so called from the incipit of the Introit at Mass, "Laetare Jerusalem" ("O be joyful, Jerusalem"), is a name often used to denote the fourth Sunday of the season of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar. This Sunday is also known as Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday (in French mi-carême), and Rose Sunday (because the golden rose sent by the popes to Catholic sovereigns used to be blessed at this time). The term "Laetare Sunday" is used predominantly, though not exclusively, by Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The word translates from the Latin laetare, singular imperative of laetari to rejoice.
The fifth Lenten
Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of
Passiontide. Passion Sunday (Dominica de Passione) is the name that was given to the fifth Sunday of Lent in pre-1960 General Roman Calendar. In 1960 Pope John XXIII changed the official name to "First Sunday in Passiontide" (Dominica I in Passione) to fit with the name that his predecessor Pope Pius XII had given to Palm Sunday, calling it the "Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday" (Dominica II in Passione seu in palmis). In 1969 Pope Paul VI removed the distinction between Passiontide and the general season of Lent, giving Palm Sunday the official full name of "Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord" (Dominica in Palmis de Passione Domini) and making what had been the First Sunday in Passiontide simply the Fifth Sunday in Lent. Some Anglicans and a minority of traditionalist Catholics continue to observe pre-1960 calendars, which use the older terminology, when the entire week beginning with the fifth Sunday of Lent was often called Passion Week prior to the calendar reform, which officially transferred that term to the following week; yet, as in the case of Palm Sunday, most Roman Catholic and Protestant laity alike continue to refer to the last week before Easter by its original name: Holy Week; indeed, this is the term employed in the Sacramentary and Lectionary of the Catholic Church.
Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross; in Latin, Via Crucis; also called the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows, or simply, The Way (Latin for Way of Grief or Way of Suffering) ) refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. It is currently marked by nine Stations of the Cross; there have been fourteen stations since the late 15th century, with the remaining five stations being inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter. Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast which always falls on the Sunday before Easter Sunday. The feast commemorates an event mentioned by all four Canonical Gospels Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19: the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the days before his Passion. It is also called Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion. In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves (often tied into crosses) to the assembled worshipers. The difficulty of procuring palms for that day's ceremonies in unfavorable climates for palms led to the substitution of boughs of box, yew, willow or other native trees. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday or by the general term Branch Sunday.
Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him. In Christianity, Holy Wednesday (also called Spy Wednesday, and in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Holy and Great Wednesday) is the Wednesday of the Holy Week, the week before Easter. It is followed by Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday).
Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples. Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday. The date is always between 19 March and 22 April inclusive. These dates in the Julian calendar, on which Eastern churches in general base their calculations of the date of Easter, correspond throughout the twenty-first century to 1 April and 5 May in the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. According to a common theory, the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the "Mandatum" ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community. According to other authorities, the English name "Maundy Thursday" arose from "maundsor" baskets, in which on that day the king of England distributed alms to certain poor at Whitehall: "maund" is connected with the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg. A source from the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church likewise states that, if the name were derived from the Latin mandatum, we would call the day Mandy Thursday, or Mandate Thursday, or even Mandatum Thursday; and that the term "Maundy" comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded. The name Maundy Thursday thus arose from a medieval custom whereby the English royalty handed out "maundy purses" of alms to the poor before attending Mass on this day.
Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember His crucifixion and burial. Good Friday, also called Holy Friday, Black Friday, or Great Friday, is a holiday observed primarily by adherents to Christianity commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and often coincides with the Jewish observance of Passover.
Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. It is custom for some churches to hold sunrise services which include open air celebrations in some places. The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist (known in some traditions as Holy Communion). Certain variations in the Easter Vigil exist: Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night, particularly Protestant churches, to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. These services are known as the Sunrise service and often occur in outdoor setting such as the church cemetery, yard, or a nearby park.
The first recorded "Sunrise Service" took place in 1732 among the Single Brethren in the Moravian Congregation at Herrnhut, Saxony, in what is now Germany. Following an all-night vigil they went before dawn to the town graveyard, God's Acre, on the hill above the town, to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of the departed. This service was repeated the following year by the whole congregation and subsequently spread with the Moravian Missionaries around the world. The most famous "Moravian Sunrise Service" is in the Moravian Settlement Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The beautiful setting of the Graveyard, God's Acre, the music of the Brass Choir numbering 500 pieces, and the simplicity of the service attract thousands of visitors each year and has earned for Winston-Salem the soubriquet "the Easter City."
Easter (Greek: Πάσχα) is the most important annual religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to Christian scripture, Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day of his crucifixion. Christians celebrate this resurrection on Easter Day or Easter Sunday (also Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday), two days after Good Friday and three days after Maundy Thursday. The chronology of his death and resurrection is variously interpreted to be between 26 and 36 AD. Easter also refers to the season of the church year called Eastertide or the Easter Season. Traditionally the Easter Season lasted for the forty days from Easter Day until Ascension Day but now officially lasts for the fifty days until Pentecost. The first week of the Easter Season is known as Easter Week or the Octave of Easter. Easter also marks the end of Lent, a season of fasting, prayer, and penance. Eastertide, or the Easter Season, or Paschal Time, is the period of fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.
ORIGINS/ETYMOLOGY OF EASTER
Old English Ēostre (also Ēastre) and Old High German Ôstarâ are the names of a putative Germanic goddess whose Anglo-Saxon month, Ēostur-monath, has given its name to the Christian festival of Easter. Eostre is attested only by Bede, in his 8th century work De temporum ratione, where he states that Ēostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held in her honor during Ēostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced by the "Paschal month." The possibility of a Common Germanic goddess called *Austrōn-, reflecting the name of the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, was examined in detail in 19th century Germanic philology, by Jacob Grimm and others, without coming to a definite conclusion.
Subsequently scholars have discussed whether or not Eostra is an invention of Bede's, and produced theories connecting Eostra with records of Germanic Easter customs (including hares and eggs). Bede (pronounced /ˈbiːd/; Old English: Bēda), also Saint Bede, the Venerable Bede, or (from Latin) Beda (pronounced [beda]; 672/673–May 26, 735), was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow (see Wearmouth-Jarrow), both in the Kingdom of Northumbria.
The English name for the festival of Easter derives from the Germanic word Eostre. It is only in Germanic languages that a derivation of Eostre marks the holiday. Most European languages use a term derived from the Hebrew pasch meaning Passover. In Spanish, for example, it is Pascua; in French, Pâques; in Dutch, Pasen; in Greek, Russian and the languages of most Eastern Orthodox countries: Pascha. In Middle English, the word was pasche, which is preserved in modern dialect words. Some languages use a term meaning Resurrection, such as Serbian Uskrs. Pope Gregory the Great ordered his missionaries to use old religious sites and festivals, and absorb them into Christian rituals where possible. The Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was ideally suited to be merged with the Pagan feast of Eostre, and many of the traditions were adopted into the Christian festivities.
EASTER BUNNY / EASTER EGGS
Relatively newer elements such as the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts have become part of the holiday's modern celebrations, and those aspects are often celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike. There are also some Christian denominations who do not celebrate Easter.
Lent & Easter banner graphics by Vanderbilt University