Lent: What does Ronald McDonald have to do with the Crucifixion?

Fish Burger - Lent

Chaplain’s Corner, 
CFB Esquimalt Chaplains

During the time of the year called ‘Lent’ many Christians give up the eating of meat (or warm blooded-flesh) on Fridays as a reminder of the flesh of Jesus that bled on Good Friday. In response, in 1962, a McDonald’s franchise owner in Cincinnati dreamed up a fish sandwich (ie. COLD-blooded flesh) to prop up sales on these Fridays. Thus the Filet-O-Fish™ was born! 

So, what is it about Lent that caused the Golden Arches to re-think its menu? The word ‘Lent’ comes from a mix of Old English, Dutch and German that roughly means the lengthening of days that happens in spring. Lent is the 40 days preceding Easter where Christians meditate on the suffering and death of Jesus. The spirituality of it is sacrifice, self-denial and penance. You’ll often hear about people ‘giving up’ something for Lent – that is because we are trying to grow in self-discipline, strengthen our will against temptation, and come out of it a better person. After all, what’s the point of this if it doesn’t make us better? It’s one thing to give up the occasional chocolate bar, but quite another to give up [insert vice or bad habit here]. One makes you bulletproof against sweets. The other targets your character flaws.

Forty days seem to figure a lot in the Scriptures: the flood lasted 40 days and nights; Moses fasted for the same length of time on Mt. Sinai; so did Elijah on another mountain; Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to signify a coming siege; and Jesus wandered the desert fasting for 40 days. Forty days seems to be the spiritual period of trial and testing where the folks who do it come out stronger, wiser, and closer to the Divine. I’m sure you can think of a time of hard self-denial (BMQ anyone?) but looking back, it made you a tougher person. 
It’s good for the soul. And it’s why we do it. 

Christians have been celebrating Lent, according to the documents, at least since the 2nd century. If we look at the current practice of some of the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics we get a glimpse of what Lenten fasting was traditionally like: no food until 1500 hrs (the time of Christ’s death), with only one meal a day permitted; abstinence from all animal products, oil and wine. This is why Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday exists. Pancakes are a quick way to get rid of all your eggs and milk products before Lent starts. No matter what discipline someone takes up for Lent, the point is to challenge ourselves and think of Jesus’ sacrifice. Christians believe Jesus, God Incarnate, died to pay the debt caused by humanity’s sins and open the gates of salvation to all. Lent zeroes in on that. 

Lent kicks off with Ash Wednesday, where ashes are imposed on our heads with the words ‘Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return’. These were the same words God spoke to Adam in the garden. It’s memento mori, my friends; a stark reminder of the fleetingness of life and to keep our eyes on eternity. Anything that might derail us from that needs to be dealt with. That’s why doing penance, making up for our faults, and doing charitable works are emphasized. 

Another thing you’ll see in churches on Fridays is the Stations of the Cross, a prayer where Christians meditate on key moments in Jesus’ final hours. It began a thousand years ago by pilgrims to the Holy Land, visiting the sites where it actually happened. The Franciscans formalized and brought this prayer to the West for those who couldn’t make the long pilgrimage. Passion plays are related. The most famous one happens in the Bavarian Alps every 10 years and has been going strong with sold-out crowds since 1632!

Now if you think this all sounds difficult and dreary, I have two things to say. First, remember that iron is only usable after it is subjected to fire. The same goes for us; no skill, no virtue was ever gained easily. Secondly, you can fully appreciate the view only if you’ve toiled up the mountain. The joy of Easter hits that much sweeter after Lent. 

Now go enjoy that Filet-O-Fish™!

February 14, 6:30 pm – All are welcome!

A sung Mass with the Blessing and Imposition of Ashes to begin the season of Lent. 
Our Lady Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Chapel CFB Esquimalt 
595 Galiano Crescent; in Belmont Park
For more info, please contact Padre Justin Peter at 250 380 8823 or justin.peter@forces.gc.ca

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