MEDIA ADVISORY: Religion Expert: Lent Offers Important Cultural And Liturgical Marker For Catholics
Contact:  Lori Wright
UNH Media Relations
February 16, 2007

EDITORS AND REPORTERS: Michele Dillon can be reached for interviews at or 781-239-3552.

DURHAM, N.H. -- The beginning of Lent it is an important time for Catholics, reminding them to reflect on their lives and encouraging them to commit to new habits, according to Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.

Dillon, author of Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith, and Power, is available to discuss the impact and importance of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007. She can be reached for interviews at or 781-239-3552.

The Lenten season marks 40 days prior to Easter Sunday and is a time of reflection on the life of Jesus Christ. Those who observe Lent often give up something as an act of penance and fast periodically during the season.

According to Dillon, Lent is still relevant to today’s Catholics, but has not been as salient in their lives in the last few decades as it has been in the past.

“Nonetheless, it is an important liturgical and cultural marker, reminding Catholics to take stock of their lives, and in this era of self-indulgence, to practice an element of self-denial by sacrificing some of their cherished everyday consumption habits,” Dillon says.

“It is also a good opportunity for Catholics to commit to new habits -- to helping others, to renewing their faith through spiritual reading, etc. Lent provides a good pause amidst hectic schedules and a reminder to individuals to review and reassess their larger values and priorities,” she says.

According to Dillion, many American church-going Catholics take Lent quite seriously. “Even those who would call themselves non-churchgoing ‘cultural Catholics’ are nudged by the date in the calendar (Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday) to at least think about practicing a little bit of self-denial,” she says.

Dillon has written extensively on Catholicism in the United States and elsewhere, and has been especially interested in the institutional and cultural processes that enable Catholics who selectively disagree with aspects of Catholic teaching to remain loyal to Catholicism. She also has examined the political engagement of the Catholic Church, and of other churches and activist organizations in public moral debates in different western countries.