Succeeding Mardi Gras, the Ash Wednesday has been one of the highlights of the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar since the 6th century. Ash Wednesday marks the entry of believers into a period of fasting that has continued since the 4th century, the Lent, which must prepare them for the greatest feast of Christendom, that which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: Easter.
Preparing for Easter
Ash Wednesday is a mobile holiday in the Christian Church, it is 40 days before Easter. It was instituted around 591 by Pope Gregory I. In the 18th century, young women born on that Wednesday were generally called Sandrine (/ Cendrine). That day, during a mass, Christians burn the branches that they have kept since Palm Mass. With their ashes, the priest draws a cross on the foreheads of the faithful by pronouncing this passage from Genesis: "Man, remember that you are dust and that you will return to dust". He also uses the formula “Convert, believe in the gospel”. The goal is to remind Man that his body and all that he has is doomed to disappear, and that his only concern must be to save his soul by following the message of Christ.
In order to evade the distractions of the world that keep them away from God, the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church must fast and abstain on Ash Day. This fast continues in different forms until Easter. In different forms because, unlike the fasting of other religions, Lent (the name Lent comes from the contraction of the Latin word quadragesima, which means “fortieth”) is no longer precisely regulated in the Catholic Church. The intention is to free oneself from what monopolizes the material daily life in order to refocus on the relationship with God. This fast can therefore infer all or part of food, sexuality, leisure ... But, in addition to fasting, the life of the penitent must also be marked by prayer and alms. Among Protestants, fasting is generally not prescribed and this time is mainly spent in meditation.
This fast should not, however, be an opportunity to enhance oneself, as the words of Jesus reported in the Gospel according to Saint-Matthew make clear:
“If you want to live as righteous people, avoid acting in front of men to get noticed. Otherwise, there is no reward for you with your Father who is in heaven.
So when you give alms, do not sound the trumpet before you, like those who perform in synagogues and in the streets, to obtain the glory that comes from men. Amen, I tell you, these have received their reward.
But you, when you give alms, let your left hand ignore what your right hand gives,
so that your alms may remain secret; your Father sees what you do in secret: he will repay you.
And when you pray, do not be like those who put on a spectacle: when they say their prayers, they like to stand in synagogues and crossroads to show themselves well to men. Amen, I tell you, these have received their reward.
But you, when you pray, retire to the bottom of your house, close the door, and pray to your Father who is present in secret; your Father sees what you do in secret: he will repay you.
And when you fast, do not look downcast, like those who put on a spectacle: they put on an undone face to show men that they are fasting. Amen, I tell you, these have received their reward.
But you, when you fast, perfume your head and wash your face;
thus, your fast will not be known to men, but only to your Father who is present in secret; your Father sees what you do in secret: he will repay you. "
If Ash Wednesday dates from the 6th century, the practice of Lent predates and dates back at least to the 4th century, to the Council of the Council of Laodicea. In the 7th century the calendar was established as it is today. For a long time, Lent had a double interest, spiritual and social, indeed it also allowed the populations to save the stocks to live which became weak at the end of the winter, and thus to avoid a famine.
Imitating the Temptation of Christ and Moses at Sinai
The believer's forty days of fasting directly echoes the forty days Jesus of Nazareth spent in the desert after his baptism. During these forty days, Jesus fasts, prays, and rejects the proposals of glory and wealth made to him by the Devil:
“Then Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
The tempter came near and said to him, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves.
Jesus answered, It is written: A man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God.
The devil carried him to the holy city, set him on the top of the temple, and said to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, He will give orders to his angels concerning you; And they will bear you up on their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
Jesus said to him, It is also written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
Then the devil carried him up to a very high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and said unto him, All these things will I give you, if you bow down and worship me. Jesus said to her, "Depart, Satan!" For it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.
So the devil left him. And behold, angels came to Jesus, and served him. "
Matthew 4. 1-11.
The forty days also refer to the time that Moses spent on Sinai before receiving the Tablets of the Law:
“Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.
The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. On the seventh day the Lord called Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the children of Israel.
Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and he went up into the mountain. Moses stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. "
In both cases, the message is similar, the believer must isolate himself from the tumult of the world to meet God, find the Faith, discern what the divine expects of him in order to be able to accomplish it in his life among other men. . Because neither Jesus nor Moses did not remain in a life of adoration after this mystical experience, they returned to men to enlighten them in turn. Likewise, Lent must be for believers a moment of refocusing, propelling them back into the century with more conviction.