LENT began on February 17 – Ash Wednesday – marking the start of a 40-day period of prayer and fasting, a reflection of the 40 days Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.
In TT, Lent is predominantly observed by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, and parishioners usually flock to their respective places of worship for the significant Ash Wednesday service. In the RC and Anglican churches, parishioners receive ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads as a symbol of repentance.
While many people have created a link between the Carnival festivities and Lent, Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, in a television interview on Ash Wednesday, said the two are not as intimately related as people would want to believe.
“Carnival actually is the add-on to the Lenten period, and not the other way around,” he said. “Carnival is a forerunner to the Lenten season…It was thought, ‘If we have to say farewell to the flesh, let’s do a little festivity before that…’ So the whole idea of the Carnival is have the festivity, on Ash Wednesday we go into deep sobriety, and we have these 40 days of sobriety where we think and live very differently.”
Even without Carnival, as was the case this year, the observance of Lent goes on as usual. He said this year the church stretched its Ash Wednesday services over a three-day period to facilitate the half-capacity covid19 safety protocol set out by the Ministry of Health. And instead of using their fingers to apply the ashes to parishioners' foreheads, priests used cotton swabs.
The attendance requirements for services during Lent differ from parish to parish.
"Some churches have an online register. At the Maloney church, you have to call to put your name on the list for attendance. But if you show up and there is space they will not turn you away," a Maloney resident told Newsday.
Devout Anglican Patricia Le Blanc said although she has played mas in the past, for her Lent is in no way hitched to Carnival.
“For me it’s a time of reflecting – taking a good look at myself, asking for forgiveness for wrong things I did intentionally or non-intentionally.” She fasts, usually abstaining on Wednesdays and Fridays, but sometimes, for health reasons, she is only able to fast on one day.
“In that case I will do Wednesday because Lent starts on a Wednesday.”
Her fast begins at 6 am and ends at 6 pm.
“All I have is water, tea or Crix.”
She said there was a time when she would fast from meat for the entire Lenten period, and substitute it with fish. But that is no longer financially viable because of the hike in the prices of fish during Lent, especially this year.
Her fast, she said, is totally worth it.
“When I fast I become more spiritually grounded. I hear God’s words clearer. For example, when I fast I don’t get frustrated when things don’t go the way I want it to. I remember it’s all in God’s time and that somebody bigger is working it out for me.”
She said there was a time when she would do a "pilgrimage," visiting up to seven churches, not Anglican churches exclusively, to pray and reflect.
"To me, religion doesn’t matter. It’s one God.
"I enjoy going to Mt St Benedict. It’s so peaceful there.”
But, she said, "Obviously, I can't do it this year because of the covid19 restrictions."
Lent is also a time for her to give more of herself, time and resources. She said she will use the time as a period of reflection, prayer and giving back more than she usually does, in any way that she can.
"Maybe I can read a child a story, make myself more readily available for family, friends. If I can’t help someone with a problem I can try to source that help from elsewhere, that sort of thing.
On Ash Wednesday Le Blanc went to the St Aiden’s RC church in Arouca to begin her Lenten observance.
“There were just about 20 people there, because now you have to call and book your place in church because of covid restrictions.”
Presbyterian minister the Rev Daniel Teelucksingh told Newsday the observance of Lent is followed by the Presbyterian church, but the fasting aspect is not as widespread as in other religious denominations.
"It’s a very important period, but fasting is not compulsory.
"We have a mid-week service in addition to the regular Sunday worship, during which preachers are free to focus on a variety of topic."
Additionally, he said, although the use of ashes as a symbol of repentance has biblical roots, the application of an ash cross on the foreheads of parishioners during the Ash Wednesday service is not practised.
"It's a beautiful symbol, but we have not adopted the use of ashes."
He said throughout the 106 congregations within the pastoral regions, the Ash Wednesday service is always well-attended, even this year despite covid19 restrictions.
"It is a significant service." He said the mid-week service during Lent may not see as large turnout as in past years, even though the church has been following all the safety protocols.
"People are very particular about being in congregations, even though we have ushers directing people to seats, we are sanitising and physical distancing. There is a mystery about this virus."
He said because of the virus, church attendance had fallen over the past year. But he is hopeful that with the start of vaccination process, the church will eventually see an increase in attendance.
"I have a feeling that with the introduction of the vaccine, people will feel safe to go out there. But we will still need to be very careful."