The Lent Season:
The word “Lent” comes from the Middle English “lente” (springtime) and the old Anglo-Saxon word “lengten” (the time when days grow longer). It is the holy springtime for our souls, a time for preparation, planting and growth.
Throughout history, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for the celebration of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends as we begin the Triduum of Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday). The mood is one of penitence and reflection — a time to meditate prayerfully on the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death for our salvation.
By the second century, Christians were preparing for the festival of Easter with a two-day fast. In the third century this was extended to all of Holy Week and, by the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., a forty-day period of fasting was being observed. Originally, this period seems to have begun on the sixth or seventh Sunday before Easter and lasted until Holy Thursday; Sundays may or may not have been included. It took until the sixth century for this to be sorted out. Historically, the season of Lent was developed as a time of fasting, recalling the forty-day temptation in the wilderness after Jesus’ baptism.
The Lenten period always had — and still has — an emphasis on baptism, for it was the period when new Christians were prepared for their baptism at the Easter Vigil. It is a time for us to affirm who we are — and Whose we are.
Why 40 Days?
The 40 days of Lent correspond to Jesus’ fasting 40 days in the wilderness during which He was tempted by Satan. The number 40 is of special significance in the Old Testament as well:
- Noah and his family were safe in the ark when it rained for forty days and forty nights
- Moses spent forty years as a prince of Egypt, 40 years as a shepherd in the desert, and 40 years as a servant of God; he also spent 40 days with the Lord atop Mt. Sinai, neither eating nor drinking, after which God gave him the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone.
- The Israelites wandered forty years to the promised land
- Elijah fasted for forty days and forty nights after Jezebel swore to kill him.
- Jonah gave the citizens of Nineveh forty days to repent. And they did!
The Holy Days of Lent:
Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
Laetare Sunday – The halfway point from Ash Wednesday to Easter
Palm Sunday – Marks the beginning of Holy Week. The crowds paved the way for Jesus with palm branches as He rode into the city.
Holy Week – The last week of Lent before Easter
Maundy Thursday – Thursday of Holy Week when Christians commemorate the Last Supper
Good Friday – The day of Christ’s crucifixion
Holy Saturday – Depending on denominations, the Easter Vigil begins at sundown on Holy Saturday or at sunrise on Easter morning.
The observance of Lent in our Church is both commemorative as well as penitential. We regard this season as a time of special spiritual opportunity to contemplate the Passion of Christ, a time of self-examination and repentance, preparing ourselves for Easter, and a time of growth in faith and grace. While it is a somber time of remembrance, it is also a time for joy and rejoicing, for we are saved through the death and resurrection of our Lord.