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Lent is the preparation for welcoming the Living Christ that came back to life on Easter.


Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 11/10/2013

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

To Catholic Church and some Christian communities, Lent is the preparation for welcoming the Living Christ that came back to life on Easter. This preparation is done for 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Palm Sunday, when the Holy Week starts. It is a time for thinking, penitence and spiritual conversation; time and preparation for the mystery of Easter.

The date changes every year, since it is connected to the celebration of Easter, which is on the first Sunday after the first full moon in the beginning of fall. When that date is defined, the Holy Week can be established. For example: in the year of 2012, Easter was on Sunday, April 8, because fall started on March 20 and the first full moon happened on April 6. Pope Gregory XIII, responsible for creating the Gregorian Calendar, set those rules in 1582.

The Lent days should commemorate the 40 years of desert crossing by the people of Israel and the 40 days that Jesus was in the desert. In these biblical passages, the difficulties faces, the hardships, the temptations and their overcoming are subjects of reflection and an invitation to conversion.

On Ash Wednesday, the followers that go to church receive from the officiant, on their foreheads, ashes made of palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year. The ashes symbolize the temporary and fleeting fragility of human life – “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” – and are a call for Christian to seek, through their actions, to follow Jesus’ teachings and, for those who believe, reaching eternal life. In order to do that, the Catholic religion tells their followers to do charity work, pray and fast as a way of helping them build their path to Lent.

That Wednesday starts, for the Catholic Church of Brazil, since 1964, the Campanha da Fraternidade (Fraternity Campaign) that has the mission to awaken the community and Christian spirit, educating for a life in fraternity and renovating the awareness of social responsibility. So the Church, through this campaign, helps to practice charity to your neighbors and assigns to the Lent period the dimension of the commitment with matters that are present in people’s lives.

After Lent, comes the Holy Week, when the Passion of Christ, his death and resurrection are celebrated. Those are days for prayer, hymns and processions. It starts officially on Palm Sunday, exactly one week away from Easter. On that day, believers remind the triumphal entrance of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. On that occasion, he was received with palm branches and  “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” (Mt 21:8).

In the following days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), the Catholic Church celebrates masses and read biblical passages on salvation. On Thursday, there is an official mass that alludes the last supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples. On that day, the Church reminds the institution of the Eucharist. On the Friday afternoon, the followers gather in church to remember the passion and death. On Saturday, the Easter Vigil takes place, and on Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Christ is celebrated.

Parallel to the official celebrations of the Holy Week, there are religious traditions brought from Portugal and Spain that were, for a long time, absorbed by the Brazilian society (some are still effective nowadays), specially in small Northeast towns. The more important prohibitions are:

To look at yourself in the mirror, wear make-up or perfume, because they are signs of vanity;
To take showers. They believed that if the believer saw their own naked body, they could sinful thoughts;
Dating, dancing, whistling, etc, because they are signs of joy, and Jesus spent all that time suffering;
To have sexual intercourse, specially on Passion Friday. If they still did it, men, single or married, would become impotent, and women wouldn’t be able to
have children anymore. Children conceived that day would be born with “the devil in them”, and be unhappy until they died.
To drink and to get drunk would make one lose their minds for good.

And the tradition of the Burning of Judas, that started in the Middle Ages. Between the Holy Friday and the Holy Saturday, a doll the size of an adult man, made with straw of cloth filling was hung on trees or poles and it is beaten, torn and burned, to represent the punishment of Judas for betraying Jesus.

Recife, February 21, 2013.

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how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Quaresma. Pesquisa Escolar Online,Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <> . Accessed: day  month year. Example: 6 August 2009.