Nowadays when Filipinos perceive Lent as either “going on vacations” or “executing bloody rituals,” it is important to review the true meaning of this Christian season.
Lent is observed by Christians throughout the world in preparation for Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Beginning from Ash Wednesday, it spans for 40 days or six weeks.
According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, these are the 40 days in which Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by the Devil. (Wikipedia)
Note that the total days before Easter are 46 but the six Sundays are not included in the fasting period and are instead “feast” days during Lent.
For 2014, Lent falls from March 5 (Ash Wednesday) to April 20 (Easter Sunday).
During this period, the devout usually repent for their sins through fasting, praying, abstaining and even alms-giving. (www.catholicism.com)
Here in the Philippines, a country dominated by Roman Catholicism, Ash Wednesday also signals the start of Lent. During this day, Filipinos hear Mass to receive a cross of ashes on foreheads. This practice symbolizes mortality as stated in Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
Meanwhile, the final week of Lent, Holy Week includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
During Holy Week, Christians commemorate the Passion of Christ, who died on Good Friday in reparation for the sins of mankind, and rose on Easter Sunday to give new life to all who believe. (www.catholicism.com)
Both sorrowful and joyful, Holy Week should be a solemn remembrance of the sacrifices of Christ. Common local practices include fasting and abstinence (from meat) or the Visita Iglesia (Seven Churches Visitation).
The Catholic nation has also been known for “bloody religious rituals” that see Filipinos walking around their communities while whipping their backs as penitence. Extremists even mimic the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. Usually seen in rural areas, these practices are widely covered and reported by local and international media.
But unfortunately, time has also seen the decline of Filipinos who sincerely observe Lent.
Because the Holy Week means a long-weekend holiday, many spend it as an opportunity to go on vacation. While the Catholic Church is aware that they cannot prevent individuals and families from going to the beaches or out of the country during this time, they constantly remind the faithful that they should make time for spiritual reflection wherever they may be. To be thankful that “(For) God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)