*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 2nd of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Historically, this morning has been a little rough for many. Last night was the last night of Mardi Gras. It is sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” or “Shrove Tuesday.” (“Shrove” is a word that implies the doing or giving of confession, absolution, and penance. It has nothing to do with the revelry of Mardi Gras).

In other words- gird your loins because Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday. We’ve looked before at this service- let’s double back and hit some of the highlights and “what you should know.”

Depending on your church, your fasting might look different than others- if you indeed fast at all (I traditionally have not, but am trying something this year). The general rule in the Catholic Church is that you fast on Ash Wednesday and every Friday in Lent.

Historically it has been thought that abstaining from Flesh on Fridays during Lent would help us to focus instead on the flesh of Christ, broken for us on the cross.

The “fasting on Fridays in Lent” soon morphed into “Fasting from meat on every Friday” (because, why not- how holy can you be?). We’ve talked before about this leading to McDonald’s creating the Filet-O-Fish for Catholics and how Catholics in certain regions were allowed to classify Capybara and Badger as water animals and thus ok to eat on Friday as a fish substitute.

Lent used to begin six weeks before Easter- Sunday to Sunday. However, during a penitential season, you are given Sundays off. Those are feast days- so an extra four days were added so that there would be 40 days of Lent (and sometimes you’ll see it written 4 Sundays “in” Lent- but not “of Lent”). Why 40? Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all had 40 days in preparation for their mission (Mt Sinai, Mt Horeb, and Jesus’ temptations).

Lent is calculated by counting backward from Easter- and we know that the church decided, all the way back at the Council of Nicea in 325, that Easter would be the first Sunday after Full Moon that occurs on or after the Spring Equinox.

You may remember this is complicated for a reason: the old calendars (and to some extent our today) slipped. Over time what we call Spring would slip into Summer and later.

And, it has been argued that Easter needs to be in Spring (the illusion is too strong), and Easter needs to be celebrated together. We even see the importance of this season is in Spring in that we call the preparation “Lent.” What does Lent mean? It comes from the old English “lectern,” which means spring.

Today, if you attend an Ash Wednesday service, you will receive the imposition of ashes- usually in the shape of the cross on your forehead.

The Ashes will be made from the burned palm fronds from last Palm Sunday in some churches. Sometimes they will be mixed with oil or water such that they can stick (and there are debates as to how long you’re supposed to keep it on- you can decide that for yourself).

The use of Ashes has Old Testament roots- wearing sackcloth and ashes was a symbol of repentance.

In the early church, we have records of penitent sinners- those who have been excommunicated- standing outside the church before the Lenten season in Ashes and Sackcloth- following the season of penance; they would be readmitted to the church on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter).

As far back as the 6th century, we see ashes poured on the head as a sacramental practice (not a sacrament- but still something physical). Some had suggested that when women began to receive the imposition, the ashes had to be put on her forehead as she would have her head covered.

It is customary to say something along the lines of “from dust you came and to dust you will return” when imposing the ashes. The Catholic Church has added, “Repent and Believe in the Gospel” before the dust bit.

But while this is a historical practice, the imposition of Ashes and Ash Wednesday service has only been popular (amongst Catholics and Protestants) in America since the middle to later 20th century with the birth of both an ecumenical movement as well as a liturgical renewal. So… don’t get all “we’ve always done it this way”-

I wish you a solemn but blessed Ash Wednesday, whatever your practice.

The Last Word for today comes from Joel 2

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
 “return to me with all your heart,
 with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
 and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
 for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
 and he relents from sending calamity.

Who knows? He may turn and relent
 and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
 for the Lord your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
 declare a holy fast,
 call a sacred assembly.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who stacks the fillet o fish with the meat patty for a land and sea special. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows you can add chicken nuggets to the fish and meat for a “land sea and air” despite chickens not being able to fly. I am Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.