Lent — a time of reflection

           The Rev. George Kitchin places ashes on St. James Catholic Elementary School fifth-grade student Addie Guida of Gulfport during the Ash Wednesday services at St. James Catholic Church in Gulfport in 2007. Ash Wednesday services will be observed tomorrow.

When the parades quit rolling and the beads stop flying, people of many religious faiths will spend the time between now and Easter doing penance and reflecting on the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, which runs until Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. Sundays in Lent aren’t counted as part of the season.

Many faiths observe the Lenten season, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans. The clergy in all these denominations encourage their congregations to use Lent as a time to engage in prayer, fasting and charitable works that will help them identify with Jesus.

However, not all denominations observe Lent in the same way.

For example, for Catholics it is a time of fasting and abstinence. On Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent, Catholics must fast, which means eating only one meal, and abstain from eating meat. Abstinence applies to everyone older than 14.

The Rev. Dominick Fullam, vicar general for the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, said Lent is a time for “purification and enlightenment.”

“The season of Lent is the time to ready yourself for Easter,” he said. “Easter is a time of Baptism of new converts to the Catholic faith and for those who already are Catholics to renew their baptismal vows.

“I try to get people to be more aware of prayer and either give up something that will bring them closer to Christ or do something for others,” Fullam said. “It’s really about getting in a mindset of getting closer to Christ.”

Some other faiths have an Ash Wednesday service, but it isn’t mandatory. If the congregation wants to give up something or spend more time in prayer, that’s a personal choice.

The Rev. Bo Roberts, pastor of St. Mark Episcopal Church in Gulfport, said Lent isn’t as structured as it was years ago.

“Lent has traditionally been a period in which people find ways to prepare for the Resurrection,” he said. “Historically, it was very austere, where people almost didn’t smile. There was a sense of somberness.

“But now there are lots of events held during Lent, such as St. Patrick’s Day parades, that we didn’t see in the past,” he said, adding he isn’t opposed to these events. “Things are changing, and it’s a coin toss whether they’re changing for the good or not.”

St. Mark’s is having a service at 7 p.m. Wednesday but it isn’t required that church members attend.

“We’ve got some breadth with it in the Episcopal church,” Roberts said. “We tell people to do what they need to do to prepare for Easter.”

The Rev. Scott Castleman, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, said it’s the same in that denomination.

“There are a lot of commonalities,” he said. “Lent is particularly a time designed around focusing on the suffering of Christ. It’s a time to remember the image of the suffering servant.”

He said Presbyterians also relax the rules somewhat on Sundays and on that day people can have whatever they gave up for Lent.

“That break can sometimes be a good reminder that it’s the grace in Christ that helps us know who we are.”

By MELISSA M. SCALLAN – mmscallan@sunherald.com

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