What Roman Catholics Really Believe: What Is Lent?

Grace and peace.

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Roman Catholic celebration of Lent. A Practical Catholic Dictionary defines Lent as:

“The period of forty days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday during which by prayer and fasting the Church makes itself ready for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord. Lent is the second part of the Cycle of Easter and follows Septuagesima. The time of Lent is six and a half weeks, but the Sundays are not counted so that the period is considered forty days.

“After Our Lord had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan, He fasted forty days and nights in the desert. Here He was tempted three times by the devil and resisted him. In Lent the faithful follow the example of Our Lord in fighting against the devil through prayer and fasting. (A Practical Catholic Dictionary, p. 134.)

This is a rather confusing definition in that it is first said that during Lent, Roman Catholics make themselves ready for the Easter holiday by praying and fasting, then we are told that the faithful Roman Catholic prays and fasts in order to follow the example of the Lord Jesus when He resisted Satan in the wilderness. It must be emphasized that the celebration of Lent is not found in the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the first-century Christians preparing themselves for Easter by celebrating Lent.

To get a deeper meaning of Lent, I looked up Ash Wednesday, mentioned in the definition of Lent, which can be found on page 29 of A Practical Catholic Dictionary. This is what it says:

“The Wednesday on which Lent begins. On this day ashes are blessed and placed on the foreheads of the priests and the people. The ashes are made by burning the palms blessed on Palm Sunday almost a year before. The priest says in Latin, while he places the ashes on the foreheads of the people: ‘Remember, man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.’ Ash Wednesday, which reminds man of his short stay in this world, ushers in Lent in the spirit of penance” (A Practical Catholic Dictionary, p. 29).


If Ash Wednesday “ushers in Lent in the spirit of penance,” then in order to find out what the spirit of Lent is, it is necessary to find out what penance is. A Practical Catholic Dictionary defines penance as:


“Prayers or good works required of the penitent by the priest who has heard his confession. This penance satisfies in part for the sins confessed. See satisfaction for sin” (p. 170).


This definition is problematic for several reasons, which we will not get into now, but, God willing, we will talk about it in depth in Part Two of this essay. For now, let us go to A Practical Catholic Dictionary’s definition of “satisfaction for sins,” which is incredibly revealing of the true nature of Lent. Satisfaction for sin can be found on page 196, and is defined as:


“Making up to God for sins committed against Him. The penitent satisfies in part for his sins when he says his Penance after Confession. Jesus Christ Himself, by His suffering and death, made infinite satisfaction for the sins of men. This is called vicarious satisfaction.”


Again we read that penance “satisfies in part for sins. If Ash Wednesday “ushers in Lent in the spirit of penitence” and penance “satisfies in part” for sins, then the implication is the purpose of Lent is not to prepare for the Easter celebration, to identify with the Lord Jesus, or to resist sin and temptation. If we can believe A Practical Catholic Dictionary (and we certainly should believe it), then the true purpose of Lent is to perform some sort of penance, through “good works” and prayer in order to make partial satisfaction for sins.

The observance of Lent, therefore, says that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross wasn’t good enough to pay for our sins. This is blasphemy.

Be encouraged and look up, for your redemption draweth nigh.

The Still Man


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