Joy, Carnival, and Lent

“Lent is a time of Joy”, said Father Patrick in Sunday Mass.  I took a moment and smiled.

I thought of the pictures that were live streaming in my phone of people in Cusco and their joy of chasing each other, drenching each other with water, and leaving masses of color on each other.  These acts seemed the very acts of joy, it was evident in their faces.  Were they the acts of joy that Lent was supposed to represent?  Why then were they relegated to the ‘Carnival’ time and not the entire season of Lent?

I looked over my instructional sheet that had been left on the pew for the observation of the season.  The actions seemed familiar to me, despite the fact that I had not actually practiced Catholicism since I was a child.  No meat on Fridays during Lent, abstain from something and fast in different ways.  How were these things joyful?

As I looked over the list again, I realized the depth of history encompassed in Lent.  Lent is 40 days in remembrance of the time that Christ fasted in the wilderness, so 46 days before Easter Sunday, the season of Lent begins.  Lent is taken from the Old English len(c)ten or spring season.  It is also related to the lengthening of the days in the Northern Hemisphere.

The spring season in the Northern Hemisphere was a time when the meat of November needed to be used before the spring thaws rotted it, the wheat and grains had to be used before they sprouted, as well as dairy products that had been stored for the winter in deep cold.  As the weather warmed, these items were used up in feasts of celebration, a fattening up before the leanness of spring – a time before the new growth would provide amply for hunger.  The weeks before Lent – before the spring thaws – were times of feasting.  There were also rituals that were held for fertility of spring.

Blending traditions of faith seem to be a common practice throughout the world, and is referred to as syncretism.   Adaptation of local customs and understandings is heralded as ‘catholic’ and as Dr. Daniel Botkin, writer for both Jewish and Christian communities says, “Much that exists in Christianity today is nothing more than white-washed, baptized paganism.” http://www.biblesabbath.org/tss/515/truth.html  While paganism has come to be viewed as evil, it is actually a word that recognizes of traditions that pre-dated Christ.

While ‘Carnival’ seems associated with the Catholic world in many ways, it is also a time of celebration that goes to the root of society.

And while “Lent is intended to be a “workshop” where the character of the believer is spiritually uplifted and strengthened; where his life is rededicated to the principles and ideals of the Gospel; where fasting and prayer culminate in deep conviction of life; where apathy and disinterest turn into vigorous activities of faith and good works.”, Lent is also a time for joy.  The joy of renewal, the joy of fertility, the joy of love.

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