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Christianity and Lent2018-02-24T16:53:23+00:00

What Is Christianity?

The following is a very brief overview of a historical and concrete reality. A more complete presentation would require many precisions and distinctions.

Christianity is the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, or its beliefs and practices.

Christianity today has more than a billion members, mainly divided between the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Churches. It originated among the Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who believed that he was the promised Messiah (or ‘Christ’), but the Christian Church soon became an independent organization, largely through the missionary efforts of St. Paul.

In 380 C.E. (Common Era) the Roman Emperor Theodosius 1 recognized it as the state religion. Christians believe in one God in three Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and that Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead after being crucified. A Christian hopes to attain eternal life after death through faith in Jesus Christ and tries to live by his teachings as recorded in the Christian Scriptures.

To understand Christianity it is helpful to focus on three specifics, though related, areas: Belief; Worship; Ethical or Moral teachings.

Most forms of Christianity accept and profess a creed: the “Apostles Creed”. Here is the text, as it appears in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

I believe in God the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son,
our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell; the third day
He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sits at
the right hand of God the Father
almighty, from thence He shall come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting.
Amen.

The principal feast is Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. This is preceded by a period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, known as Lent, exclusive of Sunday’s. The Easter season lasts 50 days and comes to a close with Pentecost, a week which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In general the days which fall outside of these special seasons are known as Ordinary Time.

  • Advent: A period of roughly four weeks prior to Christmas, during which the faithful prepare themselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ.
  • Lent: An annual period of forty days beginning on Ash Wednesday for Latin Catholics, which is set aside for penance, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the coming celebration of Easter.  It is modeled in part on the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert prior to beginning his public ministry.
    • It is important to understand certain terms in this description of Lent.  By penance is meant an inward change of heart, a deeper and more conscious turning towards God.  This inward change of heart, if it is sincere is expected to be embodied in concrete acts, i.e. fasting and almsgiving, but also (or instead) other acts more consistent with the individual’s particular circumstances and possibilities (age, health, economic realities, etc.).  Alsmgiving points to what is often referred to as our preferential option for the poor. This is an essential element in an authentically Christian mentality. (Cf. The words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Gospel according to Matthew 5:3].  

This is a vast subject, which we can only hint at here.  When people, even Catholics, speak about this, they often have in mind, specific laws (e.g. Canon Law, decrees and official doctrinal pronouncements concerning morality).  Without in any way intending to deny or overlook the importance of such factors, Catholicism tends to emphasize the ultimate grounding of our moral attitudes and teachings in the teachings of Jesus:

  • The Beatitudes — The eight beatitudes form part of the teaching given by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount.  They set forth fundamental attitudes and virtues for living as a faithful disciple.
  • The Ten Commandments –Also called “the Decalogue”.  This is the very title of Part three, Section Two of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (This can be found at the above link for the Compendium.)  There we find three versions—differing slightly in wording and numbering.  It is the third version, a “Traditional Catechetical Formula” which is that which is known by most Catholics.

Catholics believe that God’s love is mediated in a special way to humanity through the seven sacrament: those of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist), those of healing (Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick), and those of vocation (Marriage and Holy Orders).  Baptism initiates Catholics, as all Christians, into the Christian communion.  The Eucharist is the central act of the Catholic faith, celebrated daily at Mass.  Catholics, gathered around their priest or bishop, hear the words of Scripture proclaimed and commemorate Jesus’ sacrificial death.  In the consecration of bread and wine into his Body and Blood, Christ is really and mysteriously made present.

Catholics revere Mary, the Jewish mother of Jesus, as the mother of God. She is venerated – not worshipped- as are the saints, those women and men who lived exemplary lives in love of God and love of their neighbours.  Catholics believe that all the faithful, both living and dead, are joined in a communion that reflects the loving communion of God in the Holy Trinity.

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