Our Director of Interfaith Relations, the Reverend Gregory Han, provides some insights regarding the season of Lent. Thanks, Greg!
The forty days before Easter marks the Christian season on Lent. Lent is a variation of the word “lengthen,” which refers to the lengthening of days as spring arrives. Every year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year fell on February 18th. On that day, you may see Christians with ashes on their foreheads if they have attended services at their places of worship. The season ends with “Triduum” from the Latin for “three days.” These days begin with services on Maundy Thursday, and continue through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. These three days are often understood as the holiest days in the Christian calendar. Easter this year will fall on Sunday, April 5th.
Lent is a movable season because Easter is a movable feast. Easter can fall anywhere from March 22nd through April 25th, and Western churches and Eastern churches often have a different Easter date because of the differing sources (Gregorian calendar for West, Julian calendar for East) used in calculating the date. Without delving too deeply into the history of the holiday, Easter in Western churches is set on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. This year, Orthodox Easter will be on Sunday, April 12th. Both Easters will be on the same Sunday in 2017, and then not again until 2025.
In addition, we can note that the Jewish Passover often occurs around the time of Easter; all four Christian gospels tell the reader that Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. This year, Passover begins at sundown on Friday, April 3rd, and lasts until sundown on April 11th.
In the early days of the Christian church, baptism, the ritual of entry into the Christian community, was only held on Easter. Those who were baptized went through a three-year catechesis, or learning, which most likely culminated in an intense time of preparation before Easter. With the loss of this tradition, this pre-Easter time became a devotional preparation for all Christians.
Lent started out as variable in length, but six weeks seemed to become the norm by the fourth century. However, if you count every day in those six weeks, there are more than forty days. Why then, do we ascribe forty days to Lent? Because Sundays in Lent are not counted. Sundays are in the season of Lent, but not of the season of Lent. Lent was seen as a time of fasting, and Sundays were meant to be a day of celebration, not fasting.