The Spanish and Portuguese may have brought Catholicism to the New World, but once it was here we made it our own!
Today’s Latino brand of Catholicism seems more colorful and more experiential than your average Anglo Catholic parish, even in the Catholic Lent season of penance, prayer, and abstinence. Catholic Latino Lent erupts out of the church and into the streets with processions and reenactments put on by community members, especially during Holy Week at the end of Lent.
What is the Meaning of Lent?
For Catholics, Lent consist of a 40-day period starting with Ash Wednesday and extending to Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter).
The meaning of Lent has many facets, but the most important and traditional purpose of Lent involves preparing oneself spiritually to commemorate the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ through prayer, penance, repentance, charitable giving, and self-denial.
In an account written for uscatholic.org, a Latino nun from El Paso, Texas explained that she sees particular value in the Latino approach to Lent, which does not shy away at all from death and suffering. She recalled her community’s struggle to reinstitute a tradition of carrying a four-foot tall bloody statue of Christ in a processional at the end of Lent, which an Anglo priest had banned as “childish” or “undignified.”
Far from being childish, this processional and other devotionals of the Lenten season allow Latinos to identify with the suffering of Jesus and see what the nun calls “the redemptive value of suffering in our own struggles.”
What Are The Symbols of Lent?
Purple: The purple color shows up everywhere during Lent, symbolizing Jesus’ suffering as well as his royal status as the son of God.
40 Days: The number 40 has great Biblical and spiritual significance. The 40-day period of Catholic Lent symbolically recreates the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent fasting and enduring temptation in the desert, preparing himself to begin the work of spreading the word of God. It also has a parallel with the roughly 40 hours Jesus spent in the tomb before his resurrection.
Ashes: Ashes symbolize our mortality and our humility before God.
Traditionally the parish priest applies ashes made from the blessed palm fronds of last year’s Palm Sunday to each parishioner’s forehead in the shape of the cross. This sacramental act takes place on Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent.
Fasting & Giving: These symbolic practices remind us of the sacrifices and great gifts given to us by God and Jesus Christ and form a core part of the devotionals of Lent for children and adults alike.
How Latinos Celebrate Lent
Celebrating Lent involves much more than just going to special church services, though of course we do this. In addition to taking part in community celebrations and rituals, we also celebrate privately through prayer and self-reflection at home.
Many Latino Catholics study the Stations of the Cross at home or try to give up sinful beliefs and attitudes as well as a food or activity as part of their fast.
If you are celebrating Lent for children, start small with the fasting and giving, so that they can participate without being overwhelmed or discouraged by the challenge.
Also, consider reading the Bible stories about Jesus to them from a modern translation they can easily understand.