2023 March – The Origin of Lent

by SM

Dates: Wed, Feb 22, 2023 – Thu, Apr 6, 2023

Have you ever wondered what people are talking about when they say they’re giving something up for Lent? Do you want to understand what Lent is and how it relates to Easter?

Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter. Lent is often described as a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God. This means that it’s a time for personal reflection that prepares people’s hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter.

The three main things people focus on during Lent are prayer, fasting (abstaining from something to reduce distractions and focus more on God) and giving, or charity.

Prayer during Lent focuses on our need for God’s forgiveness. It’s also about repenting (turning away from our sins) and receiving God’s mercy and love.

Fasting, or giving something up, is a very common practice during Lent. The idea is that giving up something that’s a regular part of life, like eating dessert or scrolling through Facebook, can be a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. That time can also be replaced with more time connecting with God.

Giving money or doing something good for others is a way to respond to God’s grace, generosity and love. For example, some people spend time volunteering or donate money they would normally use to buy something, like their morning coffee.

It’s important to note that doing these things can never make us earn or deserve Jesus’ sacrifice or a relationship with God. People are flawed and will never be good enough for a perfect God. Only Jesus has the power to rescue us from ourselves.

Jesus sacrificed Himself on Good Friday to bear the punishment for all our wrongdoings and offer us forgiveness. He was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday to give us an opportunity to have a relationship with God for eternity.

Spending time during Lent praying, fasting and giving can make Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter even more meaningful.

The pattern of fasting and praying for forty days is seen in the Christian Bible, on which basis the liturgical season of Lent was established. In the Old Testament, the prophet Moses went into the mountains for forty days and forty nights to pray and fast “without eating bread or drinking water” before receiving the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 34:28). Likewise, the prophet Elijah went into the mountains for forty days and nights to fast and pray “until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” when “the word of the Lord came to him” (cf. 1 Kings 19:8–9). The early Christian bishop Maximus of Turin wrote that as Elijah by “fasting continuously for a period of forty days and forty nights… merited to extinguish the prolonged and severe dryness of the whole world, doing so with a stream of rain and steeping the earth’s dryness with the bounty of water from heaven”, in the Christian tradition, this is interpreted as being “a figure of ourselves so that we, also fasting a total of forty days, might merit the spiritual rain of baptism…[and] a shower from heaven might pour down upon the dry earth of the whole world, and the abundant waters of the saving bath might saturate the lengthy drought of the Gentiles.” In the New Testament, Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights; it was during this time that Satan tried to tempt him (cf. Matthew 4:1–3). The forty day and night fasts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus prepared them for their work.

Date and duration

Some named days and day ranges around Lent and Easter in Western Christianity, with the fasting days of Lent numbered. The 40 days of Lent are calculated differently among the various Christian denominations that observe it, depending on how the date of Easter is calculated, but also on which days Lent is understood to begin and end, and on whether all the days of Lent are counted consecutively. In Western traditions, the liturgical color of the season of Lent is purple. Altar crosses and religious statuary which show Christ in his glory are traditionally veiled during this period in the Christian year.

In Protestant and Western Orthodox Churches that celebrate it, the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to the evening of Holy Saturday. This calculation makes Lent last 46 days if the 6 Sundays are included, but only 40 days if they are excluded.


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