By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
Matt Zuanich, a Catholic deacon, remembers when Lent was different from the way he observes it today.
“The emphasis now is on prayer and works of good,” said Zuanich, who remembers long-ago Lenten practices of attending Mass daily, never eating between meals, and faithfully going to church for Stations of the Cross devotions every Friday night.
Observant Catholics still forgo meat on Fridays during Lent, and many spend more time in prayer and reflection.
“My wife and I would get up and go to Mass every day during Lent, then I’d go to work. They used to have a 6 a.m. Mass,” said Zuanich, 81, who serves at Everett’s Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes.
Earlier this week, Zuanich joined the Rev. Bryan Hersey for a midday Ash Wednesday service at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. They marked parishioners’ foreheads with ashes in the shape of a cross. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a solemn season many Christian churches observe leading up to Easter.
Lent is traditionally 40 days long, but there are differences in the ways churches count those days. In the Catholic Church, Lent officially ends on Holy Thursday, three days before Easter, yet the Lenten fast is traditionally observed through the Saturday before Easter. Some Christian churches calculate Lent as the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, with the Sundays excluded.
The 40 days are representative of the Bible’s account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, a time of temptation by Satan, and also of the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years from the Old Testament. The ashes, too, are symbolic.
Deacon Gene Vanderzanden, who serves at St. Michael Catholic Church in Snohomish, said there are two aspects to the symbolism of Ash Wednesday.
“One is mortality. When I was a boy, that tended to be emphasized to a greater degree,” said Vanderzanden, 73. A priest or minister may say one of two things while blessing each person with ashes. “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” from the Bible’s book of Genesis, is a reminder of life’s fragility, Vanderzanden said.
Or a clergy member may say, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” while administering ashes.
“There’s a positive emphasis, to try to make it a season where we grow closer to Christ,” Vanderzanden said. “There’s a tradition of emptying ourselves during Lent. The three ways of accomplishing that are to fast, to give up something, and to get money to the poor, almsgiving. There are also ways to fill ourselves. We nearly always have some sort of adult education during Lent.”
Catholics aren’t alone in observing Lent.
“It’s a 40-day journey into the depths of Holy Week, and into the celebration of Easter,” said Pastor Eileen Hanson, of Lynnwood’s Trinity Lutheran Church. The church uses the term “Radical Return” for its Lenten season.
While Trinity Lutheran Church held a traditional Ash Wednesday service for the imposition of ashes, Hanson said “a more experiential service” was conducted at its satellite church, Pointe of Grace in Harbour Pointe.
At Pointe of Grace, Ash Wednesday included stations for prayer, reflections on icons, and the inclusion of origami. Hanson said the folding of paper birds was a time of meditation. She said Trinity Lutheran emphasizes grace during Lent, “with the assumption that we are beloved and we are good.”
Church members, she said, will take part in providing backpacks filled with healthy foods for children in need who attend Olympic View Middle School. “Our emphasis is on returning to God, not so much on discipline,” she said.
Thomas Curran is the director of Trinity Formation Resources, a nonprofit ministry dedicated to helping Catholics live and understand their faith. An author and theologian with a graduate degree from Rome’s Gregorian University and a doctorate in systematic theology from Catholic University, Curran will present a Lenten program, “Journey to a Deeper Faith,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.
Curran said the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving have tremendous value, but also that there’s a new Lenten emphasis on “the person of Christ.”
“Jesus went out in the desert for 40 days to prepare to go forward into ministry,” Curran said. “The Lenten concept of giving up something — who is the one who gave up the most? If Jesus gave up his life for us, in obedience to his Heavenly Father and his mission, what would we not give up to ready ourselves for entry into that mission?”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.