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March 9th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

Explain it to me: What's Lent? And what are you giving up?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the season when many Christians give something up in the weeks before Easter. It's a nod to Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert before beginning his ministry. 

Some folks are giving up Facebook. Others are cutting down on their carbon emissions.

Are you giving something up? If so, let us know - and explain your choice.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Easter • Holidays • Lent

soundoff (1,213 Responses)
  1. Joanne

    I don't GIVE UP anything for Lent. I try to do more, more prayer time, more Bible study, larger contributions to the food bank and more almsgiving. I think it should be a season for giving more and doing more, but by doing with less, you do give more in the long-run.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Hy

      Very, very, well said. Thank you for expressing in words the true spiritual significance of this season.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  2. Just a guy

    I'm giving up all alcohol!! The Easter Bunny better bring me a 6-pack!

    March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  3. DougN

    While giving up something can be very powerful in the Lenten season, I also encourage people to DO something different. Focus more on daily prayer, volunteer for a charity, or some other sacrifice of one's self for another. This reinforces Jesus's message that he demonstrates by the washing of the feet at the Last Supper.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • historygypsy

      Yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly. One should have a faith that is not merely of inward inflection, but also of outward action. It should be true year-round, of course, but particularly during a time like Lent.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Kathleen

    There are several things that I feel need to be cleared up after reading these comments.
    1. Catholics celebrate Lent. Not all Christians, ONLY Catholics.
    2. Not all Christians are child molesters. That's catholic priests, and not all of them. There have been perverts from all religions and ways of life who have done this, and they all deserve to be served justice.
    3. If you are a catholic, why do you only give up things for Lent? As a Christian, you should strive to glorify God in all that you do. Giving up fast food and video games is better for your own health than God's. Do something that will help others as well, perhaps.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Guest

      Many people do just that. Some habits they keep after lent. As someone put it, lent it's just a time that you are even more reminded to think of God all throughout your day, remember Him a little more and be a witness to Him a little more than you perhaps you usually do as it's easy to forget and just live your life being a Christian only superficially.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Publius 13

      One does not celebrate Lent. Lent is observed. Most Christians observe Lent, not just ROMAN Catholics. Lutherans and Episcopalians, to name two non-Roman Catholic traditions, observe Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes and celebrating the Eucharist. Christians who fast or abstain during Lent do so to prompt them to remember to observe a Holy Lent. If these same fasts and abstinences were observed throughout the year, they would lose their power as singular memory prompts during Lent.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Zena

      Actually, some Protestants celebrate Lent, as well, so it is not only Catholics.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Jill

      Ok this just shows your ignorance on so many levels. I am Lutheran and will be attending Ash Wednesday services and receive ashes. Lutherans, as well as many other Christians, observe Lent and Advent. People who do not KNOW should not speak! And here is a news flash for everyone Catholicism was the 1st Christian religion...look it up as it is in every history lesson you will ever have at any reputable school. The first Protestant religion was Lutheran! I am so tired of ignorant people spouting off about religion and they don’t even really know the basics.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Roman

      You obviously didn't watch the video above (or, for that matter, know much about Christianity). The Orthodox also practice Lent and so do some Protestant denominations. It's not just a Catholic thing.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • historygypsy

      Actually, we Anglicans observe Lent (I've been looking forward to it for over a month!), and we are certainly not Catholic (nor are we Protestant). Orthodox observe Lent, and I believe that Lutherans do as well. I actually know a few Baptists who participate, even though the majority of Baptist churches do not.

      I'll be giving up meat this year. My roommate is an Orthodox girl, and since both our denominations observe Lent, we've decided to give up the same thing and thus support one another. I'm looking forward to the chance to grow in discipline and knowledge. It's about more than that, though; it's also a chance to deeply ponder and meditate upon Christ's saving work upon the cross. What better than 40 days to prepare one's heart for Resurrection Sunday?

      Also, a point that not many people seem to know is that we observe Lent through more than just the giving up of something. One spends greater time in prayer and devotions, we in my Anglican church perform the stations of the cross on Fridays, and in our Sunday worship, we change our songs for this period. There is a greater solemnity, because we are preparing to observe and remember the Greatest Gift that has ever been given, a Gift which required the most horrendous actions mankind has ever committed. It's a very special, deeply meaningful time for those of us who observe this, and I do find it saddening that so many people feel the need to use this forum not to edify, but to demean.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  5. Febe

    I am giving up the giving up religious nuts. Come on, what good is going to do for the rest of the year...Keep your daily routine and make a donation to the charity.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  6. Michelle

    I'm giving up soda and french fries-It's not so much because I think it's going to "save" me as so many non-Catholics think, it's because Lent is a time of reflection, when together as a faith, we can say "how can the sacrifice I am making today, make my life better/healthier/cleaner/etc" so that you can continue that throughout your life.
    If I give it up for 40 days, why not for life?
    It's a moment of introspection for me personally.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  7. Robson

    I'm giving up any type of pleassure and I'm fasting for 30 days it begins @ 6 am and ends @ 6 pm. and I feel better and more spiritual person.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  8. Publius 13

    You fail to understand the reason for fasting and abstinence. It has nothing to do with whether God cares you are doing it or whether you are making the Earth a better place. Fasting and abstinence are memory prompts. Every time I remember not to eat meat on Friday, it prompts me to remember that it is Lent, that Jesus fasted for 40 days, that he suffered and died on the cross, and that he rose from the dead three days later. When I give up potato chips, I similarly am prompted to think of Lent and so forth. Even when I forget and eat a potato chip during Lent, I think of it later. The result is that Lent keeps my attention for 40 days.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Publius 13

      Hi -Publius...

      You Said: "You fail to understand the reason for fasting and abstinence. It has nothing to do with whether God cares you are doing it or whether you are making the Earth a better place. Fasting and abstinence are memory prompts."

      I would respectfully suggest that your comment, at least the way you wrote it, is filled with a few assumptions and presuppositions that aren't necessarily accurate.

      For 'some' people, fasting and abstinence...it 'is' about making the Earth a better place. For 'some' people, fasting and abstinence 'is' about cleansing their bodies and their minds. For 'some' people, fasting and abstinence, 'is' about attempting to be closer to their God, etc...

      As you can see, I could keep going on, and on with all the different and multi-tude of reasons that people 'fast and abstain' from things for various reasons. Now, I understand, the reason that 'you' fast and abstain... they are "memory prompts."

      My point is, your reason is not the 'only' reason that people 'fast and abstain,' and your posting makes a big 'assumption' as if you 'know' your reason is the 'only' reason.

      Now, even if you put your statement in the 'context' of 'lent'... still, all these other reasons apply for other people.

      Just some thoughts...

      Peace...

      March 9, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Guest

      And hopefully you are going through a change and you are making others better as you think more and pray more. I believe that this experience is mainly between you and God. As you are reminded of him, you may express your feeling toward others and indeed help make this place a better place.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  9. jfan

    I'm giving up my belief in god

    March 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  10. Nathan

    I'm giving up religion for lent.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  11. Angelique

    What's lent?

    March 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Guest

      It's something that you rollup and smoke.

      March 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  12. Kamira

    I have never been adherent to any religion and I know a little about Christianity, but i really don't understand all these offensive responses. You guys have the right not to believe in the Catholic faith, but show some respect to the 1 billion people who adhere to this religion. Maybe you have to give up being selfish for a moment.....

    March 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  13. April

    I'm giving up a certain PC game that I've been playing obsessively. I hope to use the time more productively, like painting, gardening, and working out. We'll see.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  14. CNR

    I gave up religion......plus it eliminates the need to wear a silly ash mark on your forehead. Why is there the need to have an outward show of a supposedly inward action? Oh, that's right, religion is purely a social construct that hopes to give one group advantage over another. (Reference? See the middle east)

    March 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Guest

      Just to remember who we are. The mark on the forehead is for one day and there is no advantage in being Catholic these days especially in places where religion is ridiculed. The deeper mark and more important mark is on our hearts during lent. Going through a change as we move toward Easter. And we are actually told not to show signs of fasting, giving to charity, just do it and not make a scene about it during the 40days. Smile.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • CNR

      I know. I am a former Christian so I know all the ins and outs. Don't get me wrong, again, some religion has some good parts to it. But I think people would be much better off to deal with reality. You can still do all these things without bringing in some Supernatural guy who each group says is the real one to the exclusion of everyone elses supernatural guy.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • PhxLuke

      @CNR: "Why is there the need to have an outward show of a supposedly inward action?" Can you imagine an inward action that over time would not create an outward sign in a person's life? I think the negative of this can be seen everywhere, but the positive is what I think is being celebrated today. This can be seen in what Christianity calls "sanctification" – the process of God changing the heart of the believer. When the heart changes – the person changes in how they speak, work, love, and live. To think that faith is to only be a inward action is robbing it of its true power to transform and redeem the full life of a believer.

      Peace.

      Luke

      March 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Guest

      Well, i am glad you know there are good people out there just doing their best. And i also know that you have some points about everyone sending everyone else to hell because they know the real thing. I just think that there are ways that everyone who wants to do those good things, can get along and do them together whether they believe in one or the other, or whether they don't believe at all. What we choose to do everyday in whatever faith we find some comfort and some truth is really personal. But loving God is loving your neighbor so if we all just agree to do that, we should be fine, religion or not. Thank you for your response. I can completely see how you could think like that and i agree i am sure in many examples you may give.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • our opinion

      Sounds like you never had the belief - or you might be bitter because of like has not given you what you thought. Were you a Christian or a Catholic, or do you not know the true difference. Good for you, but your reality might be differnt than most others. There are alot of churches out there and alot of people who believe.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Guest

      Face Pack. That's what it is. What's wrong with wearing a face pack.

      March 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  15. C Wood

    I'm giving up hope that mankind will rise from the stupidity that seems to forever plague it. Stupidity that fictional beings will answer prayers and give blessings.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  16. Thought police

    You're all quitters!

    March 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  17. Papillon

    Both Catholic and Protestant churches recognize Lent, although the manner of observing it differs from church to church. Some eat just one meal a day during the full 40-day period preceding Easter. Others fast totally only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. For some, Lent requires abstaining from meat, fish, eggs, and milk products.
    Lent is supposedly based on Jesus’ 40-day fast after his baptism. Was he then establishing a ritual to be followed yearly? Not at all. This is evident from the fact that the Bible does not record any such practice among the early Christians. Lent was first observed in the fourth century after Christ. Like many other teachings of Christendom, it was borrowed from pagan sources.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Publius 13

      Lent is not based on the 40 days following Jesus' baptism. Lent is the 40-day period of reflection that precedes Easter.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  18. Peace

    Why does it bother you that others seek peace, meaning and purpose in religion. You may not like it, not understand it, think it's all whatever... but why the need to ridicule others? Does it make you feel better?
    Lent is not about giving up small habits for nothing, it's all about replacement. It's a time to get closer to God. So if i give up a few hours of tv, it's to pray more. If i give up breakfast everyday, it's to give this money to charity... It's about avoiding to be a Christian on the surface but looking for a deeper spiritual experience. And you making fun of it, does not take away from it at all, it's just so surprising how much it upsets some people.
    I'm sure you can quickly point to the abuse in the Catholic Church, to religious fanatic and many ways that religion is used for the worst in humanity, and based on that you dismiss countless people who are just trying to to their best for other human beings and themselves.
    I may give up commenting for lent as well... Just need a break from the animosity. Peace

    March 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • our opinion

      I would like to thank you for your summary of lent. The last time I checked this was a freedom of religion country and you people who do not believe, that is fine. Just do not put people down for what they believe. I am Catholic and extremely proud to say so. The church helped me to grow up and give me strength to deal with loosing people that I loved at a young age of life. I have known priests that were the best and kindest people I have ever known. Belief is extremely important in my life and it makes me feel like my family can deal with anything. Belief in God and Church is very important to some people, those who actually try to work everyday to be better people and help others. That is what we get from God and going to church as well as our strong faith. If you don't want it that is good for you, but do think in any way that you are superior because you do not believe. Most people who do believe are extremely happy people and very content with their lives. Not all people that say they are a certain religion recognize what the true meaning of that religion might be. And, no one can change that but them.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Marie

      this man gets what lent is about – and states his point eloquently.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  19. Sean

    I give up alcohol every year. I do enjoy me a good brew, so it is a sacrifice. It's also a convenient once-a-year detox, so it's good for me and kick-starts a healthy summer. Besides, I do Mardi Gras properly every year, so it seems fitting that I do lent right.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  20. Buck Ofama

    I'm giving up drinking at work.

    Just as soon as I finish this beer....

    March 9, 2011 at 10:41 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.