FAIRMONT - Karen Sandhurst's second-grade class at St. John Vianney School in Fairmont is giving up stickers for the next 40 days.
No more stickers on completed worksheets, no stickers to mark their accomplishments. Instead, for each perfect paper, a penny will be added to a jar. At the end of the season, the money will be donated to charity.
Next door, in Sarah Striemer's fourth-grade classroom, students will write down something they are willing to give up or spend extra time doing. The slips of paper will be kept in a jar in a cabinet and retrieved once per week until Easter for students to reflect on their experience of sacrificing something important to them.
These are lessons in fasting, a primary aspect of the Lenten season, marked by the Roman Catholic Church as a time of prayer, fasting and preparation for Easter. Easter is the day Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday.
The 40 days of Lent refer to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry.
According to Father Peter Schuster, priest at St. John Vianney, the day begins with celebration of Mass and the application of ashes in the sign of the cross to the forehead of the faithful. The ashes are to remind them they come from ashes, and to ashes they will return, while the cross is a symbol of hope in Christ.
Throughout the season, Catholics traditionally abstain from eating meat on Fridays. At St. John Vianney School, that means a change in school lunches, although according to Principal Joan Schaffer, it isn't strictly necessary. The 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law says only Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Only Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting is defined by the church as eating only full one meal per day, with little food throughout the rest of the day.
Still, Fairmont Area Schools, which caters lunches to St. John Vianney, provides meat-free meals on Fridays during Lent.
Schuster said that besides traditional fasting and abstaining from meat, he doesn't ask his congregants to give anything else up, but it is an option.
Students reported plans to give up everything from a favorite TV show or video game, to favorite foods.
Striemer tells students that it isn't something they should talk about much with others.
"I stress that it is just something between them and God," she said. "You think about the things that you maybe don't need in your life, and by the end [of Lent] you are that much closer to God."
Some Protestant denominations also observe the season, although less strictly.
The Rev. George Ruwisch of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fairmont said outside an increase in religious services in the time leading up to Easter, his congregants can decide on their own how to mark the season.
"We encourage marks of observances," he said, "but that is up to the individual."