In Catholicism, the Easter season begins with Lent. It is a six-week period (36 days) of fasting, with an exception on Sundays. Starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Thursday before Easter Sunday. 

The idea is to start the Easter celebrations by experiencing a period of scaled-down pain and burden that Jesus endured during his time in the desert. Lent, lacking mention in the Bible, prompts reflection on consciously forgoing certain things during this period. We sacrifice to get to know Jesus and his sufferings better. To understand the meaning behind his resurrection and experience the joy. 

Sacrifice and Fasting

A period of sacrifice and fasting can make us reflect: What do we have? And what do we struggle to live without (even just for 36 days)? What are we overlooking in our daily lives and take for granted? What are we grateful for? It shows what impact certain things/behaviours/habits make in our daily lives. It teaches us self-control and endurance. As well as offers the possibility to break bad/unhealthy habits such as eating sweets daily, spending hours on social media, or drinking alcohol. By abstaining fully or to a certain extent, we may feel slightly distressed. Pushing us to develop new coping skills. 

Fasting is just one of the three pillars of Lent apart from Prayer and Almsgiving. Whilst Prayer is a time to practice mindfulness and gratitude in stillness which can be calming and grounding, Almsgiving is about sharing what we have with others who have less. It reminds us how important a support system can be when in need. How we can contribute to a support system. 

Lent means commitment

In Catholicism, Lent means committing. Many people nowadays struggle to make a commitment to someone or something. So it might help to use Lent as a trial period to develop a new routine. This involves committing to prioritising our mental health. It entails reflecting on what actions need to be taken going forward – such as practising mindfulness, making room for physical exercise, journaling, and allocating time for oneself. For those committing to not drinking alcohol, it can be a start to a sober life led by faith. For those committing to supporting someone, it can be a start to experience how much giving can fulfil oneself and make it a habit. 

In summary, Lent is used to “suffer” and sacrifice like Jesus did. He died on the cross on Good Friday and was buried. We feel all the feelings we usually try to avoid, such as anger, grief, sadness, and shame, while hoping for the days of joy. 

Following Lent and Jesus’ death, there are the Easter celebrations with Easter Sunday being the most important day of the year for Catholics. It is the day of Jesus’ resurrection and feeling joyful and at peace. We now understand that Jesus defeated death, and after a period of sacrificing and abstaining, we can overcome temporary struggle, too. 

The Catholic Easter journey can be seen as a transformation. A movement from death to resurrection: We leave old habits behind. Making space for renewal and a physically and mentally healthier way of living. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with the Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health.