At this time of the year, back home in Ecuador, parents are planning vacations to go enjoy holly week with their families. As a family, we usually spend these days enjoying each other’s company at the beaches nearby our city. Being born and raced in Ecuador, a country with a majority of catholic population, I have observed that for the parishioners the path to holly week is very serious.
To learn about the importance and rituals that happen during this time called lent, I have asked a catholic friend to introduce me to the practices and let me have a peek on it. As explained to me, lent is the moment of conversion, in order to get prepared for Easter. It is an occasion to repent of sins. It seems like a time of reflection where Catholics try to mend their errors to become better persons. For conversion, Catholics want to give the Lord all their heart in fasting, in weeping, and in mourning.
The period of conversion lasts forty days, starting with Ash Wednesday. On this day parishioners go to mass and get the sign of the cross on their forehead marked with ashes. The colors observed for the decoration of the church and the clothing of the priest is purple which means mourning and penitence. The ashes are made out of blessed palms used in Palm Sunday the previous year; they are christened with holy water and scented with incense. At the moment where the faithful get the ashes, the priest who is the person marking the cross tells them a remainder saying: dust you are and dust you will become. The remainder is there to help achieve a spirit o humility and sacrifice.
The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the bishop blessed the hair shirts, which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.
The length of lent, is based on the meaning of number forty on the Bible. The number is repeated in a series of passages such as 40 days of rain, 40 years of the Jewish on the dessert, the 40 days of Moses and Elias in the mountains and more importantly the 40 days that Jesus stayed fasting at the dessert. Number 40 is symbolizing the human’s life in Earth followed by tests and difficulties.
As to resemble this forty days, during lent, church asks for mortification and the resignation to the ordinary...