The Christian season of Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Lent is a variation of the word, “lengthen,” which refers to the lengthening of days as spring arrives. This year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14. On this day, you may see Christians with ashes on their foreheads if they attended services at their places of worship.
The Lenten season ends with the “Triduum,” from the Latin for “three days.” These days include Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. These three days are often believed as the holiest days in the Christian calendar.
Lent is a movable season because Easter is a movable feast. Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25, and Western churches and Eastern churches often have a different Easter date because of differing sources (the Gregorian calendar for the West, the Julian calendar for the East) used in calculating the date. Without delving too deeply into the history of the holiday, Easter in Western churches, celebrated on April 1 this year, 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 April 8. Both Easters will be not fall on the same Sunday until 2025.
Note that the Jewish Passover often occurs around the time of Easter. All four Christian Gospels reveal that Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. This year, Passover begins at sundown on March 30 and lasts until sundown on April 7.
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 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 40 days. Why are there 40 days? 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 never meant to be days of fasting. The four days leading up to the six-week period were added, and thus Lent began on Ash Wednesday.
In my experience as a pastor, Lent is a time of preparation, which means a time of reflection, contemplation, and discipline. There are many ways to prepare in Lent. Some people choose to “give up” something, such as dessert or chocolate. Though a common and helpful practice, there is one caveat: Practices like these have a tendency to make practitioners overlook the meaning and purpose of renunciation, and thus practitioners primarily look forward to the end of Lent so they can resume what it was that was let go.
Some people choose to give up something that speaks to the heart. Perhaps they give up self-criticism, or gossip, or dwelling on the past. These can often be habits that are helpful and healthy to remain renounced when Lent is over. Others take on a practice: a service project, attending Lenten services, or keeping a journal. These are often practices that are good to continue when Lent concludes. The classic rituals of discipline are also available. Some people practice the ritual of fasting, others the dedicated study of holy texts, daily prayer, and the discipline of a daily time of silence.
I wish you a peaceful and enlightened Lenten season.
The Rev. Gregory Han