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Understanding Lenten practices

This year, the Lenten season began on Valentine's Day, marked by Ash Wednesday, and will continue until March 31, or Easter Sunday. Lent is a 40-day Christian season in which those observing perform different practices of imitating Jesus to prepare for Easter. 

Every year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and Christians typically go to mass and receive ashes on their foreheads in the shape of crosses. This tradition traces back to the Old Testament, where ashes were a sign of repentance of one's sins. This is done at the beginning of Lent to remind Christians of how Jesus died for their sins. 

Jeremiah Hahn, a local Athens priest, described the origins of Lent that come from the teachings of Jesus. 

"Lent is a practice we do to imitate Jesus 2000 years ago," Hahn said. "Before he began his ministry, he went into the desert for 40 days and fasted and experienced a variety of things, including temptation, and emerged from the desert ready to start his ministry." 

Hahn then explained how modern Christians take on a similar journey through fasting during the Lenten season and why it is so important. 

"We approach Lent in a similar way," he said. "We have this idea that before we feast, we fast to prepare ourselves … One way we prepare ourselves is to practice different kinds of disciplines and one of those disciplines would be fasting. At the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday, we fast as well as on Good Friday; the day we commemorate when Jesus died. That really helps us enter in for the joy and excitement of Easter Sunday." 

Christians fast during Lent by choosing one thing to abstain from during the 40 days. Hahn said these sacrifices are made to draw closer to Jesus by doing things for the sake of loving God. 

"We make sacrifices for each other," Hahn said. "Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses and fiancés make sacrifices for each other. And while it may be for one's own health, it's also for the sake of the other person, out of love for them."

Hahn said he is giving up drinks other than water and coffee, snacking and listening to anything other than the radio while driving. 

Another sacrifice made during the Lenten season is abstaining from meat on Fridays. This tradition traces back to Good Friday. 

"It's a way for all Christians, especially all Catholics, around the world, to enter into Christ's own suffering in a small way," Hahn said. "On Good Friday, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross and we observe that we, in a sense, participate in his suffering by a very small little suffering ourselves. And what the Church asks for Catholics all around the world is to avoid meat on Fridays during Lent."

For students on a meal plan who are observing Lent and abstaining from meat on Fridays, the dining halls are making some accommodations. 

"Every Friday, The District on West Green will be serving fish for the duration of Lent." Dining Hall Manager Bruce Reede said. 

Hahn said there are two other pillars of Lent alongside fasting: prayer and almsgiving. Almsgiving is the act of giving charity. 

"(Almsgiving) might mean helping feed the hungry or providing donations to food pantries," Hahn said. "It might mean supporting women in crisis situations, or women's shelters or crisis pregnancy centers. It might mean helping refugees … And this is the season for that. Those kinds of acts of charity. It's a very special season where we should make a concentrated effort to do those kinds of things."

Prayer is the final pillar of Lent. Hahn encouraged everyone to pray during Lent and said everyone's prayer life may look different. In addition to prayer, Hahn stressed the importance of reading the Bible. 

A 2021 Ohio University graduate, Lina Kaufman, said she is trying to read the entire Bible throughout Lent. 

"I'm just focusing on trying to read the Bible in 30 days, which I know sounds insane, but I'm listening to it auditorily throughout the day, so that's kind of what I'm doing," Kaufman said. "I'm not exactly giving something up, just adding something in." 

Lent ends on Easter Sunday, the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead after dying on Good Friday. Typically, Christians have a large celebration on Easter to enjoy a feast after the fast.


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