Christian holidays like Lent can be a bit tricky to understand. Do Pentecostals celebrate Lent? What denominations do? How does someone even celebrate Lent?
Do Pentecostals celebrate Lent? Not usually. Lent tends to be commonly celebrated in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is much rarer to see an evangelical congregation celebrating Lent. While some individuals in the Pentecostal movement may choose to personally observe Lent, it is not widespread.
But what is Lent? Why wouldn’t Pentecostals observe it? People tend to have a lot of questions about differences in denominations, so let’s talk about Lent and its place in Christianity.
What is Lent?
Put simply, Lent is a six-week period that leads up to Good Friday and Easter. Its comparable to Christmas Advent. Lent is a time of solemn observance and preparation. Most people who celebrate Lent use it as a time of fasting and giving up in order to prepare themselves to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What people give up and fast can vary wildly form person to person and congregation to congregation. Some choose to give up things that give them mild pleasure like chocolate, social media, or other activities. Others take Lent as a time of serious devotion and choose to fast almost all foods and completely remove themselves from any sort of pleasurable activity. People may fast food, entertainment, or even sex as part of Lent observance.
People have compared Lent to the preparation before a wedding ceremony. A time where we remove ourselves in order to be wed to a bride. Lent is supposed to encourage the softening of minds and hearts in order to receive God. The exception to fasting during Lent is on Sunday, when great feasts are held in order to celebrate the resurrected Christ.
Lent traditionally begins on Ash Wednesday with the wearing of Ash for believers, and typically doesn’t end until Easter Sunday. This six-week period is incredibly important for many believers as a time of self-examination and the forgiveness of sins. Some people celebrate a 40-day fast during Lent to mirror Jesus’ time in the wilderness.
How did Lent Start?
A time of preparation leading up to Easter Sunday has been somewhat common since Apostolic times. Early Christians often spent time fasting or preparing before the celebration of Easter. However, it wasn’t formalized until the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. where the main focus was on a fasting of food.
Fasting was greatly encouraged for a forty-day period leading up to Holy Week. During Holy Week, more intense fasting would occur. It was also used as a time to prepare those who had not been baptized for baptism and the forgiveness of sin. Many churches had specific steps you had to take leading up to your baptism and Lent often made the perfect time for these steps. Those wanting to be baptized would prepare themselves during Lent and then be baptized on Easter Sunday.
The type of food that one could eat during Lent was greatly debated. Many churches forbid anything that came from an animal while others made exception for fish and milk. But over time rules became more relaxed. Those who ate dairy products could perform some form of penance to not negate their fast, but this too was eventually relaxed. Lenten rules for fasting evolved to make it easier for the believer to observe.
The early church placed a heavy emphasis on Lent, but there were differences in how it was practiced even then. Lent is a rather important time for Christians, you would think that we could be more united in how to practice it. But traditional interpretation is difficult, and differences exist even today.
How do Catholics Celebrate Lent?
Catholics treat Lent as a time of penance, to repent from sin and turn to God. Its been associated as a time of renewal coinciding with spring. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Catholic church. Catholics spend forty days fasting in preparation for Easter, but don’t count Sundays among their Lenten days.
During Ash Wednesday, the penitent is marked with ash as a symbol of penance and to show their asking for forgiveness. This coincides well with Lent being a time of fasting and preparation. Though originally ashes were only given to those who committed grave sins like adultery, the custom involved to include the whole church.
Catholic Lent fasting encourages congregants to give up meat entirely on Fridays and to partially fast by only eating one meal a day on other days. Sundays are seen as non-Lenten days and therefore, Catholics do not fast on Sundays. There are also exceptions for Lenten fasting for those who are young, pregnant, or if health is a concern.
Traditionally, Catholics have also been encouraged to give something else up during Lent as part of their penance. Instead of giving something up however, some Catholics celebrate Lent by adding something healthy into their lives, such as exercise or other good habits.
How do Eastern Orthodox Celebrate Lent?
Eastern Orthodox churches have a little bit of a different idea on how one should celebrate Lent. For starters, their days are different. Eastern Orthodox congregations start Lent on Clean Monday, which is seven weeks before Easter. Sundays are also included in Lenten days, unlike Catholics who don’t count Sunday as a day of fasting. For the Easter Orthodox church, each week of Lent has a specific theme and meaning leading up to Pascha (what they call Easter).
Eastern Orthodox churches also tend to have a much more strict fast when compared to the Western church. Eastern Orthodox congregants usually fast all meat, eggs, and dairy products. Whereas Catholic fasting has relaxed greatly overtime, Eastern Orthodox fasting has reminded very consistent. Eastern Orthodox as a whole tend to approach Lent with a much stricter mindset and place more restrictions on services during the time.
Why Don’t Pentecostals Celebrate Lent?
So why don’t Pentecostals, and evangelicals as a whole, celebrate Lent? Well, that is a bit debated. As far as I can tell, many Protestant reformers had a tendency to deny most Catholic liturgy and tradition. Martin Luther saw most Catholic traditions like penance for sin as religious swindling. He didn’t think there was any real change in the person, he thought that most Catholics were essentially just checking off a list of things they were supposed to do.
As a result, much of early reformed thought is in direct opposition to whatever Catholics were doing at the time. The Protestant notion of “Scripture Alone” has painted liturgy and church tradition in a negative light. It’s possible that early protestant theologians thought Lent was entirely based in works. That people needed to do something in order to win Gods favor, so they chose to not observe it in order to emphasis the grace of God.
Specifically, Pentecostals tend to not celebrate Lent because Pentecostals came out of protestant tradition, and historically protestant tradition has never cared for Lent. More and more evangelicals and protestants today are starting to observe Lent, but the practice is still not widespread. Today, if you are part of an evangelical church, Lent is a personal decision that you must make for yourself as a believer.
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