MANILA, Philippines - Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, a 40-day preparatory period for the celebration of Easter.
Here are some interesting facts about the Lenten season:
- Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter in the Christian calendar. Sundays are not included in the count. It falls on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter Sunday.
- Why 40 days? The number is significant in Jewish-Christian scripture: in Genesis, it took 40 days and nights of rain to cause a flood which destroyed the earth; the Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land; Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; Jesus spent 40 days of fasting in preparation for his ministry.
- Lent is derived from an Old English word which means "lengthen." The last week of Lent is called Holy Week.
- Violet is the symbolic color for Lent, with altars, statues and other religious paraphernalia veiled in violet fabric.
- Why violet? The color is associated with mourning, which anticipates Christ's pain and suffering on the cross; and royalty, which celebrates Christ's resurrection.
- In most Christian denominations, Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, which is derived from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance to God. The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday.
- Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, prayer, and repentance. Other days of abstinence from meat include all Fridays during Lent.
- During Lent, the faithful are encouraged to surrender a particular vice, such as smoking or favorite food items, as a reflection of Jesus' deprivation in the wilderness and test of self-discipline.
- In 2010, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said Filipino Catholics should abstain from video games, movies, sending text messages, and even using social networks such as Facebook as a form of sacrifice during the Lenten season. Cruz followed a similar proposal by British Church leaders urging people to give up their iPods and other gadgets for at least one day.
- Last year, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) launched a website that offers a "virtual experience" of celebrating Lent at the comfort of one's own room. Visita Iglesia Online allows users to listen to the pasyon (sung readings of the Gospel account of Christ's Passion), watch videos of the Seven Last Words, read homilies and take part in the Stations of the Cross via a computer with an Internet connection. It also features 14 shrines and pilgrimage churches, as well as reflections given by Filipino priests.