Christian period of Lent begins with ashes today

Today marks the start of the Christian period of Lent in which individuals are supposed to prepare themselves for Easter.

Ash Wednesday is when priests put a cross in ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ash comes from last year’s palm fronds mixed with a bit of oil.

Still the 40 days of Lent are supposed to be a time of sacrifice and penance.

These days there are no public displays of hair shirts and self-flagellation, at least not in Costa Rica. Still psychologists wonder if self-inflicted pain really alleviates the guilt associated with immoral acts? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores the psychological consequences of experiencing bodily pain.

According to scientists and the University of Queensland, Australia, unpleasant sensations are filled with meaning. Humans have been socialized over ages to think of pain in terms of justice, they said after conducting an experiment with undergraduates. Humans equate it with punishment, and as the experimental results suggest, the experience has the psychological effect of rebalancing the scales of justice — and therefore resolving guilt, they said.

The scientists measured unethical behavior and responses after a hand was held in ice water. Pain appeared to reduce the volunteers’ guilt.

Lent also is the spring break period when college students come to Costa Rica. And the activities of Holy Week before Easter are tourist draws.

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