Everyone knows that Mardi Gras kicks off the upcoming 40-day Lent, which honors the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness, but did you know there is more to it?
Recently the Independent released their list of “5 things you might not know about Lent,” which prompted Catholic Online to join in the fun.
Catholics already know that Lent is preceded by Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, then concluded with an Easter celebration, but what else is there?
Take a look at our top 5 little-known-facts about Lent below. How many do you know?
Technically, Lent is not 40-days-long
If you take a look at your calendar, you’ll notice that the time between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, there are actually 46 days.
Lent is celebrated for 40 days simply because Sundays are not included in Lent, despite the popularity of most Catholic communities including each Sunday.
During these “free” days, it is traditional to commemorate the resurrection of Christ by celebrating and feasting.
Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Mardi Gras and Pancake Day celebrate the same thing
What do Samba, music, masks, beads, pancakes and feasting have in common?
They are all celebrating Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), which is the last day to feast on rich and fatty foods before Lent begins! What makes each celebration so different is the country in which they are celebrated and that society’s tradition mixed with Catholic observances.
“No Meat Fridays” have exceptions
Catholics observing Lent choose to eat fish, not meat, on Fridays during Lent, but there are a few interesting exceptions to the rule.
In the 1600s, a group of monks in France allowed puffins to be considered fish, since their “natural habitat was as much terrestrial as aquatic,” and the bird was allowed to be eaten on Fridays.
Two years ago, the National Bishops’ Conference approved of the consumption of alligator on Friday as the beast “is considered in the fish family.”
In 2006, several American bishops have a special dispensation to eat meat on Friday during Lent because St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday and it is traditional to eat corned beef brisket for his feast day.
Ashes are more than what they seem
Did you know that the ashes to mark a cross on your forehead symbolize God’s creation of man from ashes and that man returns to ash when he dies?
Priests often say, “Remember, man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.” They also mark the sorrow and grief of our personal sins and serve as a symbol of repentance.
In an interesting note, many wipe the ashes from their foreheads following Mass, but several wear their ashes proudly as they go to school, work or run errands.
One does not need to be Catholic to participate
Though Lent is observed predominantly by Catholics, several Christians often follow our example to fast and honor Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Others often give up a single indulgence, such as social media or chocolate, as well.
This year, Rt. Rev. Seamus Cunningham, the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Diocese, specified that anyone can take part in Ash Wednesday ceremonies if they so chose.
He stated: “This is an important day, but it’s not just for Catholics. Anyone can receive blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday, whether Christian or not, to express their desire to grow spiritually and to turn away from their failings, their areas of weakness and brokenness, in favour of seeking the healing and wholeness that only God can give.
“You are welcome to come along to any Ash Wednesday service and join us in taking this simple, but profound step.”