Generally, most people think of Lent as solely a Catholic tradition, but all Christian religions celebrate this season, even though it might be in different ways. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation, through prayer, penance and self-denial, for the celebration of Easter.
Many Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Protestant churches bare their altars of candles, flowers, and other devotional offerings. Crucifixes, religious statues, and other decorated religious items are often veiled in violet fabrics in observance.
The main question you often hear people asking each other is, “What are you giving up for Lent?”
For members of many Orthodox Christian churches, who maintain traditions from the earliest churches of 2000 years ago, Lent means giving up all meat and animal products, such as butter, milk and eggs. They also fast completely from midnight until noon for every day of Lent.
“When Jesus answered his tempter on the mountain,” explains Father Elie Estephan of Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Potomac, “ 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' [Matthew, 4: 4], he made God’s words very essential and the source of life and not the bread anymore. So, we abstain from food to experience what Jesus experienced when he fasted for forty days.”
General practice for Catholics has evolved over the centuries, although before 1000 A.D., it was similar to the Orthodox traditions. Catholics are expected to fast completely on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and then abstaining from meat all Fridays in between.
“What we choose to do throughout Lent changes as we grow spiritually,” said Diana O'Keefe, a North Potomac resident and devout Catholic. “When I was young it was a big deal for me to give up ice cream and candy for 40 days. As I grew older I fasted more often . . . and add more prayer to my days.”
Many Protestant churches acknowledge Shrove Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) and Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the season of Lent season, but do not ask their parishioners to actively give up anything. Instead, they use this season to step up their outreach and charity to others.
Aside from the different traditional denial of certain foods or luxuries, most Christians agree that any physical abstinences or outreach are incomplete without the reflection on personal spiritual growth as well.
The website for St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac says, “Lent is . . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”