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, March 1st; you may see people with ashes on their foreheads if they attend early morning or noon 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 with Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. These three days are often understood as the holiest days in the Christian calendar. Easter this year is Sunday, April 16th.
Lent is a movable season because Easter is a movable feast. Easter can fall anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th (inclusive), and Western churches and Eastern churches often have a different Easter date because of 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, Eastern Orthodox Easter will be on Sunday, April 16th as well. Western and Eastern Easters won’t synchronize again until 2025.
In addition, note that the Jewish Passover often occurs around the time of Easter; all four Christian Gospels tell the reader Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. This year, Passover begins at sundown on April 10th and lasts until sundown on April 18th. I will send out more information about Passover in early April.
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 forty days. How come there are forty 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 not meant to be fast days. The four days previous to the weeks 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 for the forty days, like dessert or chocolate. Though a common and helpful practice, there is one caveat: practices like these have the 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 after 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 after Lent concludes. The classic rituals of discipline are also available. Some people practice the ritual of fasting, others the dedicated study of holy texts, others daily prayer, and others the discipline of a daily time of silence.
Rev. Greg Han
Director of Interfaith Relations
Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston