Whadduh ya’ given up for Lent? Remember when you were a kid? This was a very important topic of conversation. It started a couple of weeks before Ash Wednesday, and brought out all kinds of inspirations: Chocolate, candy, soda: those were the treats that children would forgo. When those children grew up, their forfeitures got a little more adult: coffee, cigarettes, and maybe even wine. Interesting, isn’t it? If you check the dictionary, you’ll find that “sacrifice” means to “give up, forfeit, let go, surrender.” Sacrifice has been present in religious practices since the beginning of recorded history. In the Old Testament, we know that the Israelites made blood sacrifices of animals, as well as sacrifices of grain and wheat. The prophets point out, however, that sacrifices to God had to be accompanied by an inner morality and goodness. As Christians, we profess and believe that Christ is the One, true, and perfect sacrifice for our sins, the sacrificial Lamb Who took away the sins of the world.

So what is sacrifice exactly? And what does it have to do with Lent? If you look at the roots of the word “sacrifice,“ you’ll see that it comes from the Latin, literally meaning “to make sacred or holy.” So why do we have to give up anything for Lent? By looking at the meaning of the word, we realize that in making sacrifices we move closer to God, and in essence, we become more holy. That is the purpose of our Lenten journey — to turn away from sin and to move closer to God.

We began our Lenten journey by receiving ashes on our forehead. The ashes are a sign of repentance for our sins and also serve as a reminder of our mortality: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We prepare for the time when we will stand before the throne of God and be judged. When we were signed with ashes, we began our journey acknowledging our sinfulness and our desire to return to God. We once again committed ourselves to sacrifice, prayer, penance, and continued conversion.     

As we continue on our Lenten journey, we must remember that we are walking with those who are making the journey for the first time: the catechumens, who become the Elect after the right of election on the First Sunday of Lent. We are on parallel journeys with the Elect. During the Lenten season, we are called to evaluate ourselves for the purpose of self-renewal. The Elect go through the same examination, evaluation, and conversion. They give up their former lives to embrace a life of faith. On the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, the Elect continue their conversion process through the celebration of the scrutinies. But the Elect are not the only ones being called to conversion. As they go through this period of introspection, we are called to do the same. While they deal with sin through the scrutinies and the waters of Baptism, we are called to repentance through the Sacrament of Penance. While the Elect approach the font purified of their sin, we are able to stand with them at the Easter Vigil and renew our baptismal promises because we have been cleansed as well through our reconciliation. As the Elect move toward the waters of Baptism, all in the community need to be made aware that their Lenten journey and the journey of the Elect are intertwined. Through this awareness, not just those involved in the catechumenate process or the sponsors of the Elect but the entire parish experiences conversion, as it prays for, witnesses to, walks with, supports, and guides the Elect.

Lent is much more profound than some realize. Lent is about Baptism. Lent is about renewal. Lent is about repentance. Lent is about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is about purification. Lent is about dying to sin, and rising to new life. Most of all, Lent is about sacrifice. It is about giving up our sinfulness and turning toward goodness and holiness, and God. It is about moving toward the waters of new life so that we can carry on and carry out our baptismal promises. May we spend this Lenten season evaluating ourselves so that we can renew our commitment to Christ and together carry out the work that Christ has given us! And that, my friends is the Good News!          

Anchor columnist Ada Simpson is former editor of Ministry and Liturgy magazine, holds an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry, and is the director of Music Ministry at St. Francis and St. Dominic parishes in Swansea.