Who Loaned Us Lent?

by Mike Thomas

Now is the time of year when Catholics practice Lent. The term comes from the Old English term "lencten," which meant "the spring season." It is now used to describe the forty day period prior to Easter wherein people seek to imitate the forty-day fast of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2). The purpose of Lent is to prepare people for Christ's day of resurrection, which is believed to be on Easter, through a fast of particular foods. "During Lent the faithful must observe the law of fasting" [Catholic Dictionary]. This is not an absolute fast for forty days, as with Jesus in the wilderness, but is only practiced on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) and on Fridays during Lent. Sundays are not included.

When I was a child, I always wondered why some kids would come to school with ashes on their foreheads once a year, and why the school would serve fish on Fridays. (Not that I minded. It made a tasty sandwich between two rolls.) I know now that these were part of the Lenten season for Catholics who "fasted" for the forty days prior to Easter. Meat, eggs, butter, milk, cheese, and oil are just some of the forbidden "vices" during Lent.

One of the things associated with New Orleans is Mardi Gras. What few realize is that this two-week party also stems from Lent. The celebration, which for most is a time of drunkenness and immorality, is a license to release all inhibitions before the forty days of restraint in Lent. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday because it is the last day of the carnival. The term carnival itself finds its origin in this celebration. It comes from the Latin term carnelevare which means "to remove the meat." It was popularized in Mardi Gras because people were having a carnival before removing the meat in Lent. There are several reasons why these traditions are not from God:

  1. Lent and Easter are never celebrated in the Bible. Jesus wants His people to remember His death every first day of the week in the Lord's Supper (I Corinthians 11:23-26).
  2. "The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith ... forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received" (I Timothy 4:3). The Catholic doctrine of commanding to abstain from meat in Lent is evidence of this.
  3. Jesus said it is a sin to honor the religious traditions of men as doctrines from God (Matthew 15:8-9).
  4. God considers fish a meat (Deuteronomy 14:9-10). If it's wrong to eat meat during Lent, fish is not the solution.
  5. The only "holy day" God has today is the Lord's Day (Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10). To place religious significance on any other day is to depart from God's will (Colossians 3:20-22; Galatians 4:10).
  6. If something is a "vice" during Lent, it would be a vice 365 days a year. God never gives us a license to sin; those who teach us to do so are acting contrary to God's will (I John 3:4-8).