Ash Wednesday signals the start of Lent, a period of 40 days prior to Easter that many Western Christians consider a time of preparation that includes reflection, remembrance and repentance.
Christians reflect on Jesus Christ’s life, ministry, suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, said local religious leaders.
“This holy season is a gift which God gives us to help us open our minds and hearts to his merciful love and to recognize new possibilities for our lives,” Diocese of Gary Bishop Dale Melczek said in a message to parishioners.
“It is meant to be a time of conversion so that we renew our baptismal promises at Easter with minds and hearts made new,” he said. “It is the ‘acceptable time’ which our heavenly Father offers us to put our lives in right order.”
For members of Grace Reformed Church in Lansing, Lent is “a time of reflection upon Christ’s suffering,” said Pastor Andy Nearpass.
The traditions of the Reformed denominations include setting aside two days a month to devote to prayer, he said.
The Rev. Steve Conger, senior pastor of Ridge United Methodist Church in Munster, said rather than concentrating on the suffering of Jesus, he prefers to focus on Christ’s ministry, of “what is means to be a follower of Jesus.”
Being a Christian “is about making choices,” Conger said. “Lent is a time to realize that it is not about us.”
Sacrifice, including the symbolic act of renunciation or giving up temptations, has been a part of the Lenten traditions for some denominations. Those of the Roman Catholic faith, for example, traditionally abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent.
The Lenten season is also a time for fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline for some Christians.
Conger said giving up is part of being a Christian — giving up the freedom to be selfish or spiteful, for example. But so is taking on something else during Lent, he said.
“I take on study, reading or a devotion,” he said. “This is a time to reflect on how Jesus ministry transformed the world.”