Lent

Lent (Latin: Quadragesima, 'Fortieth') is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later; depending on the Christian denomination and local custom, Lent concludes either on the evening of Maundy Thursday,[1] or at sundown on Holy Saturday, when the Easter Vigil is celebrated.[2] Regardless, Lenten practices are properly maintained until the evening of Holy Saturday. In Eastern Churches, whether Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Lutheran or Eastern Catholic, Lent ends at noon of Holy Saturday.[3][4]

The liturgical colour 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.

The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, simple living and self-denial.[5] This season is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Oriental Orthodox, Reformed (including Presbyterian and Congregationalist), United Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches.[6][7][8] Some Anabaptist, Baptist and nondenominational Christian churches also observe Lent.[9][10]

In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting, as well as giving up certain luxuries in order to replicate the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ's journey into the desert for 40 days;[11][12][13] this is known as one's Lenten sacrifice.[14] Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God.[15][16] The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues that show the triumphant Christ, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event.

Throughout Christendom, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, most notably among Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.[17][18][19]

Lent is traditionally described as lasting for 40 days, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, before beginning his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan.[20][21] The last week of Lent is Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday. Following the New Testament narrative, Jesus' crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday, and at the beginning of the next week the joyful celebration of Easter Sunday, the start of the Easter season, recalls the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Etymology

Lent observers, including a confraternity of penitents, carrying out a street procession during Holy Week, in Granada, Nicaragua. The violet color is often associated with penance and detachment. Similar Christian penitential practice is seen in other Christian countries, sometimes associated with fasting.[22]

The English word Lent is a shortened form of the Old English word lencten, meaning "spring season", as its Dutch language cognate lente (Old Dutch lentin)[23] still does today. A dated term in German, Lenz (Old High German lenzo), is also related. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'the shorter form (? Old Germanic type *laŋgito- , *laŋgiton-) seems to be a derivative of *laŋgo- long […] and may possibly have reference to the lengthening of the days as characterizing the season of spring'. The origin of the -en element is less clear: it may simply be a suffix, or lencten may originally have been a compound of *laŋgo- 'long' and an otherwise little-attested word *-tino, meaning 'day'.[24]

In languages spoken where Christianity was earlier established, such as Greek and Latin, the term signifies the period dating from the 40th day before Easter. In modern Greek the term is Σαρακοστή (Sarakostí), derived from the earlier Τεσσαρακοστή (Tessarakostí), meaning "fortieth". The corresponding word in Latin, quadragesima ("fortieth"), is the origin of the terms used in Latin-derived languages and in some others. Examples in the Romance language group are: Catalan quaresma, French carême, Galician coresma, Italian quaresima, Occitan quaresma, Portuguese quaresma, Romanian păresimi, Sardinian caresima, Spanish cuaresma, and Walloon cwareme. Examples in non-Latin-based languages are: Albanian kreshma, Basque garizuma, Croatian korizma, Irish and Scottish Gaelic carghas, Swahili kwaresima, Filipino kuwaresma, and Welsh c(a)rawys.

In other languages, the name used refers to the activity associated with the season. Thus it is called "fasting period" in Czech (postní doba), German (Fastenzeit), and Norwegian (fasten/fastetid), and it is called "great fast" in Arabic (الصوم الكبيرal-ṣawm al-kabīr, literally, "the Great Fast"), Polish (wielki post), Russian (великий постvieliki post), and Ukrainian (великий пістvelyky pist). Romanian, apart from a version based on the Latin term referring to the 40 days (see above), also has a "great fast" version: postul mare. Dutch has three options, one of which means fasting period, and the other two referring to the 40-day period indicated in the Latin term: vastentijd, veertigdagentijd and quadragesima, respectively.

Origin

Early Christianity records the tradition of fasting before Easter.[25] The Apostolic Constitutions permit the consumption of "bread, vegetables, salt and water, in Lent" with "flesh and wine being forbidden".[25] The Canons of Hippolytus authorize only bread and salt to be consumed during Holy Week.[25] The practice of fasting and abstaining from alcohol, meat and lacticinia during Lent thus became established in the Church.[25]

In AD 339, Saint Athanasius wrote that the Lenten fast was a forty-day fast that "the entire world" observed.[26] Saint Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–AD 430) wrote that: "Our fast at any other time is voluntary; but during Lent, we sin if we do not fast."[27]

Three main prevailing theories exist on the finalization of Lent as a forty-day fast prior to the arrival of Easter Sunday: First, that it was created at the Council of Nicea in 325 and there is no earlier incarnation. Second, that it is based on an Egyptian Christian post-theophany fast. Third, a combination of origins syncretized around the Council of Nicea.[28] There are early references to periods of fasting prior to baptism. For instance, the Didache, a 1st or 2nd-century Christian text, commends "the baptizer, the one to be baptized, and any others that are able" to fast to prepare for the sacrament.[29] For centuries it has been common practice for baptisms to take place on Easter, and so such references were formerly taken to be references to a pre-Easter fast. Tertullian, in his 3rd-century work On Baptism, indicates that Easter was a "most solemn day for baptism," however, he is only one of a handful of writers in the pre-Nicene period who indicates this preference, and even he says that Easter was by no means the only favored day for baptisms in his locale.[30] Since the 20th century, scholars have acknowledged that Easter was not the standard day for baptisms in the early church, and references to pre-baptismal periods of fasting were not necessarily connected with Easter. There were shorter periods of fasting observed in the pre-Nicene church (Athanasius noted that the 4th-century Alexandrian church observed a period of fasting before Pascha [Easter]).[28] However it is known that the 40-day period of fasting – the season later named Lent – before Eastertide was clarified at the Nicene Council.[31]

The Council of Laodicea enjoins the Lenten fast as "as of strict necessity."[26]

Duration

Some named days and day ranges around Lent and Easter in Western Christianity, with the fasting days of Lent numbered

Various Christian denominations calculate the 40 days of Lent differently. The way they observe Lent also differs.

Roman Catholicism

In the Roman Rite since 1970, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday evening (before the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper). This comprises a period of 44 days. The Lenten fast excludes Sundays and continues through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, totalling 40 days (though the Eucharistic Fast still applies).[32][33]

In the Ambrosian Rite, Lent begins on the Sunday that follows what is celebrated as Ash Wednesday in the rest of the Latin Catholic Church, and ends as in the Roman Rite, thus being of 40 days, counting the Sundays but not Maundy Thursday. The day for beginning the Lenten fast is the following Monday, the first weekday in Lent. The special Ash Wednesday fast is transferred to the first Friday of the Ambrosian Lent. Until this rite was revised by Saint Charles Borromeo the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent was festive, celebrated in white vestments with chanting of the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluia, in line with the recommendation in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast, do not look gloomy".[34][35][36]

During Lent, the Church discourages marriages, but couples may do so if they forgo the special blessings of the Nuptial Mass and reduced social celebrations.[37]

The period of Lent observed in the Eastern Catholic Churches corresponds to that in other churches of Eastern Christianity that have similar traditions.

Lutheranism, Moravianism, Anglicanism, Methodism, Western Orthodoxy and Reformed Christianity

In Protestant and Western Orthodox Churches, the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to the evening of Holy Saturday.[4][38] This calculation makes Lent last 46 days if the 6 Sundays are included, but only 40 days if they are excluded.[39] This definition is still that of the Moravian Church,[40] Lutheran Church,[41] Anglican Church,[42] Methodist Church,[2] Reformed Churches (Continental Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregationalist),[43] Western Rite Orthodox Church,[44] and United Protestant Churches.[45]

Eastern Orthodoxy and Byzantine Rite

In the Byzantine Rite, i.e., the Eastern Orthodox Great Lent (Greek: Μεγάλη Τεσσαρακοστή or Μεγάλη Νηστεία, meaning "Great 40 Days" and "Great Fast" respectively) is the most important fasting season in the church year.[46]

The 40 days of Great Lent includes Sundays, and begins on Clean Monday and are immediately followed by what are considered distinct periods of fasting, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, which in turn are followed straightway by Holy Week. Great Lent is broken only after the Paschal (Easter) Divine Liturgy.

The Eastern Orthodox Church maintains the traditional Church's teaching on fasting. The rules for lenten fasting are the monastic rules. Fasting in the Orthodox Church is more than simply abstaining from certain foods. During the Great Lent Orthodox Faithful intensify their prayers and spiritual exercises, go to church services more often, study the Scriptures and the works of the Church Fathers in depth, limit their entertainment and spendings and focus on charity and good works.

Oriental Orthodoxy

Among the Oriental Orthodox, there are various local traditions regarding Lent. Those using the Alexandrian Rite, i.e., the Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Ethiopian Catholic, Eritrean Orthodox, and Eritrean Catholic Churches, observe eight weeks of Lent.

In Ethiopian Orthodoxy, fasting (tsome) lasts for 55 continuous days before Easter (Fasika), although the fast is divided into three separate periods: Tsome Hirkal, eight days commemorating an early Christian figure; Tsome Arba, 40 days of Lent; and Tsome Himamat, seven days commemorating Holy Week.[47][48][49] Fasting involves abstention from animal products (meat, dairy, and eggs), and refraining from eating or drinking before 3:00 pm.[47] Ethiopian devotees may also abstain from sexual activity and the consumption of alcohol.[47]

As in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the date of Easter is reckoned according to the Julian Calendar, and usually occurs later than Easter according to Gregorian Calendar used by Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Quartodecimanism

Quartodeciman Christians end the fast of Lent on the Paschal full moon of the Hebrew calendar, in order to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread beginning on the 14th of Nisan, whence the name derives. For this practice, they were excommunicated in the Easter controversy of the 2nd century A.D.

Associated customs

Statues and icons veiled in violet shrouds for Passiontide in St Pancras Church, Ipswich, England

There are traditionally 40 days in Lent; these are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbours); these are known as the three pillars of Lent.[50]

Self-reflection, simplicity and sincerity (honesty) are emphasized during the Lenten season.[5]

In what is known as one's Lenten sacrifice, Christians give up partaking in personal luxuries (e.g. watching television) and often invest the time or money saved in charitable purposes or organizations.[51]

During Shrovetide and especially on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of the Lenten season, many Christians finalize their decision with respect to what Lenten sacrifices they will make for Lent.[52] Examples include practicing vegetarianism and teetotalism during Lent as a Lenten sacrifice.[53][54] While making a Lenten sacrifice, it is customary to pray for strength to keep it; many often wish others for doing so as well, e.g. "May God bless your Lenten sacrifice."[55] In addition, some believers add a regular spiritual discipline, to bring them closer to God, such as reading a Lenten daily devotional.[15]

Another practice commonly added is the singing of the Stabat Mater hymn in designated groups. Among Filipino Catholics, the recitation of the epic of Christ' passion, called Pasiong Mahal, is also observed. In some Christian countries, grand religious processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week to pray the Stations of the Cross and pray at each church's Altar of Repose.

In many liturgical Christian denominations, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday form the Easter Triduum.[56] Lent is a season of grief that necessarily ends with a great celebration of Easter. Thus, it is known in Eastern Orthodox circles as the season of "Bright Sadness". It is a season of sorrowful reflection which is punctuated by breaks in the fast on Sundays.

In cultivation of vegetables in a temperate oceanic climate in the northern hemisphere, Lent corresponds partly with the hungry gap.

Fasting and abstinence

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert), James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum

Fasting is one of three traditional pillars of Lent.[50] Historically, using the early Christian form known as the Black Fast, the observant does not consume food for a whole day until the evening, and at sunset, Christians traditionally break the Lenten fast of that day with supper (no food is consumed in a day apart from the Lenten supper).[57][58] In India and Pakistan, many Christians continue this practice of fasting until sunset on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, with many fasting in this manner throughout the whole season of Lent.[59][60] From Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, fasting has been historically practiced on forty days of Lent (excluding the Lord's Day); abstinence from wine, meat and lacticinia (all things coming from flesh such as milk, cheese, eggs and butter) has been enjoined for forty-six days (including the Lord's Day).[61][25] After attending a worship service (often on Wednesday and Friday evenings), it is common for Christians of various denominations to conclude that day's Lenten fast together through a communal Lenten supper, which is held in the church's parish hall; Lenten suppers ordinarily take place in the home setting during the forty days of Lent during which a family (or individual) concludes that day's fast after a mealtime prayer.[62]

Lenten suppers often consist of a vegetarian soup, bread and water in order to maintain the season's focus on abstinence, sacrifice and simplicity.

Historically, Christians abstained from sexual relations during the whole of Lent.[63] In Spain, according to researchers from the University of Valencia and the University of Alcalà, a custom of abstaining from sexual relations was widely practiced until the end of the Franco régime, though some Christians voluntarily continue this practice today, and denominations such as the Greek Orthodox Church continue to require abstinence from sexual relations during Lent.[64][65] Until 1741, meat and lacticinia (products derived from animals such as eggs and dairy products) were forbidden for the whole season of Lent, including the Lord's Day; in that year, Pope Benedict XIV allowed for the consumption of meat and lacticinia during certain fasting days of Lent.[66] Dispensations for the allowance of certain foods have been given throughout history, depending on the climate in that part of the world; for example, Giraldus Cambrensis, in his Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales, reports that "in Germany and the arctic regions", "great and religious persons" eat the tail of beavers as "fish" because of its superficial resemblance to "both the taste and colour of fish". The animal was very abundant in Wales at the time.[67] Saint Thomas Aquinas allowed for the consumption of candy during Lent, because "sugared spices" (such as comfits) were, in his opinion, digestive aids on par with medicine rather than food.[68]

For Roman Catholics before 1966, the obligation of the penitential fast was to take only one full meal a day, throughout all forty days of Lent, except on the Lord's Day. In addition, a smaller meal, called a collation (which was introduced after the 14th century A.D.), was allowed, and a cup of some beverage, accompanied by a little bread, in the morning.[69] The 1917 Code of Canon Law allowed the full meal on a fasting day to be taken at any hour and to be supplemented by two collations, with the quantity and the quality of the food to be determined by local custom. Abstinence from meat was to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays and Saturdays in Lent. The Lenten fast ended on Holy Saturday at noon. Only those aged 21 to 59 were obliged to fast. As with all ecclesiastical laws, particular difficulties, such as strenuous work or illness, excused one from observance, and a dispensation from the law could be granted by a bishop or parish priest.[70] A rule of thumb is that the two collations should not add up to the equivalent of another full meal. Rather portions were to be: "sufficient to sustain strength, but not sufficient to satisfy hunger".[71]

In 1966, Pope Paul VI reduced the obligatory fasting days from all forty days of Lent to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, abstinence days to Fridays and Ash Wednesday, and allowed episcopal conferences to replace abstinence and fasting with other forms of penitence such as charity and piety, as declared and established in his apostolic constitution Paenitemini; fasting on all forty days of Lent is still "strongly recommended", though not under pain of mortal sin.[72] This was done so that those in countries where the standard of living is lower can replace fasting with prayer, but "…where economic well-being is greater, so much more will the witness of asceticism have to be given…"[73] This was made part of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which made obligatory fasting for those aged between 18 and 59, and abstinence for those aged 14 and upward.[74] The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference decided to allow other forms of Friday penance to replace that of abstinence from meat, whether in Lent or outside Lent, suggesting alternatives such as abstaining from some other food, or from alcohol or smoking; making a special effort at participating in family prayer or in Mass; making the Stations of the Cross; or helping the poor, sick, old, or lonely.[75] The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales made a similar ruling in 1985[76] but decided in 2011 to restore the traditional year-round Friday abstinence from meat.[77] The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has maintained the rule of abstention from meat on Friday only during Lent and considers poultry to be a type of meat but not fish or shellfish.[78][79]

The Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI), a Sedevacantist Roman Catholic religious congregation, requires fasting for its members on all of the forty days of the Christian season of repentance, Lent (except on the Lord's Day); in addition to this, the CMRI mandates under the pain of grave sin, abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and all Fridays of the year in general.[80]

After the Protestant Reformation, in the Lutheran Church, "Church orders of the 16th century retained the observation of the Lenten fast, and Lutherans have observed this season with a serene, earnest attitude."[7] Many Lutheran churches advocate fasting during Lent,[13][81] especially on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.[82][13][83][84] A Handbook for the Discipline of Lent delineates the following Lutheran fasting guidelines:[17]

  1. Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday with only one simple meal during the day, usually without meat.
  2. Refrain from eating meat (bloody foods) on all Fridays in Lent, substituting fish for example.
  3. Eliminate a food or food group for the entire season. Especially consider saving rich and fatty foods for Easter.
  4. Consider not eating before receiving Communion in Lent.
  5. Abstain from or limit a favorite activity (television, movies etc.) for the entire season, and spend more time in prayer, Bible study, and reading devotional material.
  6. Don't just give up something that you have to give up for your doctor or diet anyway. Make your fast a voluntary self-denial (i.e. discipline) that you offer to God in prayer.[17]

The Augsburg Confession, a confession of faith in Lutheranism, teaches, with regard to fasting: "And true prayers, true alms, true fastings, have God’s command; and where they have God’s command, they cannot without sin be omitted. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession VI)"[85]

Members of the Moravian Church voluntarily fast during the season of Lent, along with making a Lenten sacrifice for the season as a form of penitence.[86]

Many of the Churches in the Reformed tradition retained the Lenten fast in its entirety.[12] The Reformed Church in America describes the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, as a day "focused on prayer, fasting, and repentance" and considers fasting a focus of the whole Lenten season,[87] as demonstrated in the "Invitation to Observe a Lenten Discipline", found in the Reformed liturgy for the Ash Wednesday service, which is read by the presider:[88]

We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance and our need for the love and forgiveness shown to us in Jesus Christ. I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a Holy Lent, by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by practicing works of love, and by reading and reflecting on God's Holy Word.[88]

Good Friday, which is towards the end of the Lenten season, is traditionally an important day of communal fasting for adherents of the Reformed faith.[89] In the Anglican Churches, the Traditional Saint Augustine's Prayer Book: A Book of Devotion for Members of the Anglican Communion, a companion to the Book of Common Prayer, states that fasting is "usually meaning not more than a light breakfast, one full meal, and one half meal, on the forty days of Lent".[18] It further states that "the major Fast Days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as the American Prayer-Book indicates, are stricter in obligation, though not in observance, than the other Fast Days, and therefore should not be neglected except in cases of serious illness or other necessity of an absolute character."[90]

The historic Methodist homilies regarding the Sermon on the Mount stress the importance of the Lenten fast, which begins on Ash Wednesday.[91] The United Methodist Church therefore states that:

There is a strong biblical base for fasting, particularly during the 40 days of Lent leading to the celebration of Easter. Jesus, as part of his spiritual preparation, went into the wilderness and fasted 40 days and 40 nights, according to the Gospels.[92]

Good Friday, which is towards the end of the Lenten season, is traditionally an important day of communal fasting for Methodists.[89] Rev. Jacqui King, the minister of Nu Faith Community United Methodist Church in Houston explained the philosophy of fasting during Lent as "I'm not skipping a meal because in place of that meal I'm actually dining with God".[93]

In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Lutheran Churches abstinence from all animal products including eggs, fish, fowl, and milk sourced from animals (e.g., cows and goats, as opposed to the milk of coconuts and soy beans) is still commonly practiced, so that, where this is observed, only vegetarian (or vegan) meals are consumed for the whole of Lent, 48 days in the Byzantine Rite. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s practices require a fasting period that is a great deal longer and there is some dispute over whether fish consumption is permissible.

In the traditions of the Western Christianity, abstinence from eating some form of food (generally meat, but not dairy or fish products) is distinguished from fasting. In principle, abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on every Friday of the year that is not a solemnity (a liturgical feast day of the highest rank); but in each country the episcopal conference can determine the form it is to take, perhaps replacing abstinence with other forms of penance.[74][94][95]

Even during Lent, the rule about solemnities holds, so that the obligation of Friday abstinence does not apply on 19 and 25 March when, as usually happens, the solemnities of Saint Joseph and the Annunciation are celebrated on those dates. The same applies to Saint Patrick's Day, which is a solemnity in the whole of Ireland as well as in dioceses that have Saint Patrick as principal patron saint. In some other places, too, where there are strong Irish traditions within the Catholic community, a dispensation is granted for that day.[96] In Hong Kong, where Ash Wednesday often coincides with Chinese New Year celebrations, a dispensation is then granted from the laws of fast and abstinence, and the faithful are exhorted to use some other form of penance.[97]

In many Christian countries, religious processions during the season of Lent are often accompanied by a military escort both for security and parade. Ceuta, Spain

The United Methodist Church teaches, in reference to one's Lenten sacrifice, that "On each Lord's Day in Lent, while Lenten fasts continue, the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection."[98] As such, for Lutherans, Moravians, Anglicans, Methodists, Roman Catholics, United Protestants and Reformed Christians, the Lenten penitential season ends after the Easter Vigil Mass or Sunrise service. Orthodox Christians also break their fast after the Paschal Vigil, a service which starts around 11:00 pm on Holy Saturday, and which includes the Paschal celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. At the end of the service, the priest blesses cheese, eggs, flesh meats, and other items that the faithful have been abstaining from for the duration of Great Lent.

Lenten traditions and liturgical practices are less common, less binding, and sometimes non-existent among some liberal and progressive Christians.[99] A greater emphasis on anticipation of Easter Sunday is often encouraged more than the penitence of Lent or Holy Week.[100]

Some Christians as well as secular groups also interpret the Lenten fast in a positive tone, not as renunciation but as contributing to causes such as environmental stewardship and improvement of health.[101][102] Even some atheists find value in the Christian tradition and observe Lent.[103]

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, most notably by the public imposition of ashes. In this photograph, a woman receives a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday outside an Anglican church.
A Lutheran pastor distributes ashes during the Divine Service on Ash Wednesday.

The number 40 has many Biblical references:

  • Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God[104]
  • Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb[105]
  • God sent 40 days and nights of rain in the great flood of Noah[106]
  • The Hebrew people wandered 40 years in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land[107]
  • Jonah's prophecy of judgment gave 40 days to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed[108]
  • Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where He fasted for 40 days, and was tempted by the devil.[109] He overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and He began His ministry. Jesus further said that His disciples should fast "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them",[110] a reference to his Passion.
  • Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial.
  • It is the traditional belief that Jesus lay for 40 hours in the tomb,[35] which led to the 40 hours of total fasting that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church[111] (the biblical reference to 'three days in the tomb' is understood by them as spanning three days, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, rather than three 24-hour periods of time). Some Christian denominations, such as The Way International and Logos Apostolic Church of God,[112] as well as Anglican scholar E. W. Bullinger in The Companion Bible, believe Christ was in the grave for a total of 72 hours, reflecting the type of Jonah in the belly of the whale.[113]

One of the most important ceremonies at Easter is the baptism of the initiates on Easter Eve. The fast was initially undertaken by the catechumens to prepare them for the reception of this sacrament. Later, the period of fasting from Good Friday until Easter Day was extended to six days, to correspond with the six weeks of training necessary to give the final instruction to those converts who were to be baptized.

Converts to Christianity followed a strict catechumenate or period of instruction and discipline prior to receiving the sacrament of baptism, sometimes lasting up to three years.[114] In Jerusalem near the close of the fourth century, classes were held throughout Lent for three hours each day. With the legalization of Christianity (by the Edict of Milan) and its later imposition as the state religion of the Roman Empire, its character was endangered by the great influx of new members. In response, the Lenten fast and practices of self-renunciation were required annually of all Christians, both to show solidarity with the catechumens, and for their own spiritual benefit.

Omission of Gloria and Alleluia

The Gloria in excelsis Deo, which is usually said or sung on Sundays at Mass (or Communion) of the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican rites, is omitted on the Sundays of Lent (as well as Sundays of Advent), but continues in use on solemnities and feasts and on special celebrations of a more solemn kind.[115][116] Some Mass compositions were written especially for Lent, such as Michael Haydn's Missa tempore Quadragesimae, without Gloria, in D minor, and for modest forces, only choir and organ. The Gloria is used on Maundy Thursday, to the accompaniment of bells, which then fall silent until the Gloria in excelsis of the Easter Vigil.[117]

The Lutheran Divine Service, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Churches, and the Presbyterian service of worship associate the Alleluia with joy and omit it entirely throughout Lent,[118][119] not only at Mass but also in the canonical hours and outside the liturgy. The word "Alleluia" at the beginning and end of the Acclamation Before the Gospel at Mass is replaced by another phrase.

Before 1970, the omission began with Septuagesima, and the whole Acclamation was omitted and was replaced by a Tract; and in the Liturgy of the Hours the word "Alleluia", normally added to the Gloria Patri at the beginning of each Hour – now simply omitted during Lent – was replaced by the phrase Laus tibi, Domine, rex aeternae gloriae (Praise to you, O Lord, king of eternal glory).

Until the Ambrosian Rite was revised by Saint Charles Borromeo the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent was festive, celebrated with chanting of the Gloria and Alleluia, in line with the recommendation in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast, do not look gloomy".[34][35][36]

In the Byzantine Rite, the Gloria (Great Doxology) continues to be used in its normal place in the Matins service, and the Alleluia appears all the more frequently, replacing "God is the Lord" at Matins.

Veiling of religious images

A Methodist minister prostrates at the start of the Good Friday liturgy at Holy Family Church, in accordance with the rubrics in the Book of Worship. The processional cross is veiled in black, the liturgical colour associated with Good Friday in Methodist Churches.
A crucifix on the high altar is veiled for Lent. Saint Martin's parish, Württemberg, Germany

In certain pious Christian states, in which liturgical forms of Christianity predominate, religious objects were traditionally veiled for the entire 40 days of Lent. Though perhaps uncommon in the United States of America, this pious practice is consistently observed in Goa, Malta, Peru, the Philippines (the latter only for the entire duration of Holy Week, with the exception of processional images), and in the Spanish cities: Barcelona, Málaga, and Seville. In Ireland, before Vatican II, when impoverished rural Catholic convents and parishes could not afford purple fabrics, they resorted to either removing the statues altogether or, if too heavy or bothersome, turned the statues to face the wall. As is popular custom, the 14 Stations of the Cross plaques on the walls are not veiled.

Crosses were often adorned with jewels and gemstones, the form referred to as Crux Gemmata. To keep the faithful from adoring the crucifixes elaborated with ornamentation, veiling it in royal purple fabrics came into place. The violet colour later evolved as a color of penance and mourning.

Further liturgical changes in modernity reduced such observances to the last week of Passiontide. In parishes that could afford only small quantities of violet fabrics, only the heads of the statues were veiled. If no violet fabrics could be afforded at all, then the religious statues and images were turned around facing the wall. Flowers were always removed as a sign of solemn mourning.

In the pre-1992 Methodist liturgy and pre-1970 forms of the Roman Rite, the last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide, a period beginning on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal is called the First Sunday in Passiontide and in earlier editions Passion Sunday. All statues (and in England paintings as well) in the church were traditionally veiled in violet. This was seen as in keeping with John 8:46–59, the Gospel of that Sunday, in which Jesus "hid himself" from the people.

Within many churches in the United States of America, after the Second Vatican Council, the need to veil statues or crosses became increasingly irrelevant and was deemed unnecessary by some diocesan bishops. As a result, the veils were removed at the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo during the Easter Vigil. In 1970, the name "Passiontide" was dropped, although the last two weeks are markedly different from the rest of the season, and continuance of the tradition of veiling images is left to the discretion of a country's conference of bishops or even to individual parishes as pastors may wish.

On Good Friday, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist churches traditionally veiled "all pictures, statutes, and the cross are covered in mourning black", while "the chancel and altar coverings are replaced with black, and altar candles are extinguished". The fabrics are then "replaced with white on sunrise on Easter Sunday".[120]

Media coverage

In the United Kingdom, BBC's Radio Four normally broadcasts during Lent a series of programmes called the Lent Talks.[121] These 15-minute programmes are normally broadcast on a Wednesday and have featured various speakers, such as Christian apologist John Lennox.[122]

Pre-Lenten observances

During the season of Shrovetide, it is customary for Christians to ponder what Lenten sacrifices they will make for Lent.[123] Another hallmark of Shrovetide is the opportunity for a last round of merrymaking associated with Carnival and Fastelavn before the start of the somber Lenten season; the traditions of carrying Shrovetide rods and consuming Shrovetide buns after attending church is celebrated.[124][125] On the final day of the season, Shrove Tuesday, many traditional Christians, such as Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and Roman Catholics, "make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with."[126][127] During Shrovetide, many churches place a basket in the narthex to collect the previous year's Holy Week palm branches that were blessed and distributed during the Palm Sunday liturgies; on Shrove Tuesday, churches burn these palms to make the ashes used during the services held on the very next day, Ash Wednesday.[128]

In historically Lutheran nations, Shrovetide is known as Fastelavn. After attending the Mass on Shrove Sunday, congregants enjoy Shrovetide buns (fastelavnsboller), "round sweet buns that are covered with icing and filled with cream and/or jam."[124] Children often dress up and collect money from people while singing.[124] They also practice the tradition of hitting a barrel, which represents fighting Satan; after doing this, children enjoy the sweets inside the barrel.[124] Lutheran Christians in these nations carry Shrovetide rods (fastelavnsris), which "branches decorated with sweets, little presents, etc., that are used to decorate the home or give to children."[124]

In English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, the day before Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday, which is derived from the word shrive, meaning "to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve".[129] In these countries, pancakes are associated with Shrove Tuesday because they are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar – rich foods which are not eaten during the season.[130]

Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") refers to events of the Carnival celebration, beginning on or after the feast of Epiphany and culminating on the day before Lent.[131] The carnival celebrations which in many cultures traditionally precede Lent are seen as a last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. Some of the most famous are the Carnival of Barranquilla, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Carnival of Venice, Cologne Carnival, the New Orleans Mardi Gras, the Rio de Janeiro carnival, and the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

Holy days within the season of Lent

A Methodist minister distributing ashes to confirmands kneeling at the chancel rails on Ash Wednesday
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old Jerusalem on Golgotha, Mount Calvary, where tradition claims Jesus was crucified and died

There are several holy days within the season of Lent:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity, such as the Lutheran Churches, Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, Methodist Churches, Reformed traditions, etc.
  • In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite, there is no Ash Wednesday: Lent begins on the first Sunday and the fast begins on the first Monday.
  • The Sundays in Lent carry Latin names in German Lutheranism, derived from the beginning of the Sunday's introit. The first is called Invocabit, the second Reminiscere, the third Oculi, the fourth Laetare, the fifth Judica, the sixth Palm Sunday.
  • The fourth Sunday in Lent, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, is referred to as Laetare Sunday by Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and many other Christians, because of the traditional Entrance Antiphon of the Mass. Due to the more "joyful" character of the day (since laetare in Latin means "rejoice"), the priest, deacon, and subdeacon have the option of wearing vestments of a rose colour (pink) instead of violet.
  • Additionally, the fourth Lenten Sunday, Mothering Sunday, which has become known as Mother's Day in the United Kingdom and an occasion for honouring mothers of children, has its origin in a 16th-century celebration of the Mother Church.
  • The fifth Sunday in Lent, also known in some denominations as Passion Sunday (and in some denominations also applies to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide.
  • The sixth Sunday in Lent, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter.
  • Wednesday of Holy Week, Holy Wednesday (also sometimes known as Spy Wednesday) commemorates Judas Iscariot's bargain to betray Jesus.[132][133][134]
  • Thursday of Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples.
  • The next day is Good Friday, on which Christians remember Jesus' crucifixion, death, and burial.

Easter Triduum

In the Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, and many other churches, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins Maundy Thursday evening, with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. After this celebration, the consecrated Hosts are taken solemnly from the altar to a place of reposition, where the faithful are invited to meditate in the presence of the consecrated Hosts.This is the Church's response to Jesus' question to the disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Could you not watch with me one hour?" On the next day, the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 pm, unless a later time is chosen due to work schedules.

This service consists of readings from the Scriptures, especially John the Evangelist's account of the Passion of Jesus, followed by prayers, veneration of the cross of Jesus, and a communion service at which the hosts consecrated at the evening Mass of the day before are distributed. The Easter Vigil during the night between Holy Saturday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning starts with the blessing of a fire and a special candle, and with readings from Scripture associated with baptism. Then, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung, water is blessed, baptism and confirmation of adults may take place, the people are invited to renew the promises of their own baptism, and finally, Mass is celebrated in the usual way from the Preparation of the Gifts onwards.

Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. It is custom for some churches to hold sunrise services which include open air celebrations in some places.

Vestments

The chancel of a Lutheran church decorated with red paraments, the liturgical colour of the last week of Lent, Holy Week, in the Lutheran and Anglican Churches[135]

In the Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and many Anglican churches, the pastor's vestments are violet during the season of Lent. Roman Catholic priests wear white vestments on solemnity days for St. Joseph (March 19) and the Annunciation (March 25), although these solemnities get transferred to another date if they fall on a Sunday in Lent or at any time during Holy Week. On the fourth Sunday in Lent, rose-coloured (pink) vestments may be worn in lieu of violet. Historically, black had also been used: Pope Innocent III declared black to be the proper color for Lent, though Durandus of Saint-Pourçain claims violet has preference over black.[136]

In some Anglican churches, a type of unbleached linen or muslin known as "Lenten array" is worn during the first three weeks of Lent, crimson is worn during Passiontide, and on holy days, the colour proper to the day is worn.[137] In certain other Anglican churches, as an alternative to violet for all of Lent except Holy Week and red beginning on Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, Lenten array, typically made of sackcloth such as burlap and trimmed with crimson cloth, often velvet, is worn, even during Holy Week—since the sackcloth represents penance and the crimson edges represent the Passion of Christ. Even the veils that cover the altar crosses or crucifixes and statuary (if any) are made of the same sackcloth with the crimson trim.

See also

Christianity

Islam

  • Ramadan

Judaism

Modern interpretations

  • Lent Event, asks people to donate the value of what they forego during Lent

General

References

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  112. Jesus Was Literally Three Days and Three Nights in the Grave, www.logosapostolic.org, retrieved 23 March 2011
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  114. Hinson, E. Glenn (1981). The Evangelization of the Roman Empire: Identity and Adaptability. Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0865540149. Like its parent, Judaism, earliest Christianity had a catechism for its converts, as much recent study has proven. […] Hippolytus required up to three years' instruction before baptism, shortened by a candidate's progress in developing Christian character.
  115. Block, Mathew (24 December 2019). ""Glory to God in the Highest" - Where Did it Go?". International Lutheran Council. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
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  118. "Why don't we use alleluias during Lent?" (PDF). Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  119. Weaver, J. Dudley Jr. (2002). Presbyterian Worship: A Guide for Clergy. Geneva Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0664502188. The alleluia is traditionally not sung during Lent, and, here at the first service of Easter, it is at last reintroduced to the church's liturgy.
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  123. Kelvey, Jon (13 February 2018). "Strawbridge United Methodist keeps Shrove Tuesday pancake tradition". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  124. "Shrovetide". Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  125. Beadle, Richard (17 March 1994). The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre. Cambridge University Press. p. 69. ISBN 9780521459167. One of these was the pre-Lent Carnival extravaganza of Shrovetide, though this seems to have been celebrated to a much lesser extent in Britain than it was (and still is) on the continent: however, we know of English Shrovetide plays, and Mankind bears signs of being one of them (335).
  126. Thaler, Shmuel (26 February 2020). "Lunch marks beginning of Lent". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved 8 March 2021. Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics who make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God’s help in dealing with.
  127. Walker, Katie (7 March 2011). "Shrove Tuesday inspires unique church traditions". Daily American. Retrieved 4 January 2016. Many local churches will celebrate Shrove Tuesday tomorrow, a day of feasting commonly known as “pancake day.” Shrove Tuesday is typically observed by Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic denominations, but each church celebrates the day in its own, unique way. The Rev. Lenny Anderson of the St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Somerset said the primary focus of Shrove Tuesday is to prepare for Lent, the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.
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  129. Melitta Weiss Adamson, Francine Segan (2008). Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313086892. In Anglican countries, Mardis Gras is known as Shrove Tuesday—from shrive meaning "confess"—or Pancake Day—after the breakfast food that symbolizes one final hearty meal of eggs, butter, milk and sugar before the fast. On Ash Wednesday, the morning after Mardi Gras, repentant Christians return to church to receive upon the forehead the sign of the cross in ashes.
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  131. MacMillan, Dianne M. (1997). Mardi Gras. Enslow Publishers.
  132. "spy, n.", OED Online, Oxford University Press, December 2013, Spy Wednesday n. in Irish use, the Wednesday before Easter.
  133. Packer, George Nichols (1893). "Our Calendar: The Julian Calendar and Its Errors, how Corrected by the Gregorian". Corning, NY: [The author]. p. 112. Retrieved 15 December 2013. Spy Wednesday, so called in allusion to the betrayal of Christ by Judas, or the day on which he made the bargain to deliver Him into the hands of His enemies for 30 pieces of silver.
  134. McNichol, Hugh (2014). "Spy Wednesday conversion to Holy Wednesday". Catholic Online. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  135. Gally, Howard E. (1989). Ceremonies of the Eucharist. Cowley Publications. p. 45. ISBN 978-1461660521. In recent decades there has been a revival of the ancient use of red (crimson or scarlet) for Holy Week among both Episcopalians and Lutherans. The Roman rite has restored the use of red only on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
  136. Kellner, K. A. H. (1908). Heortology: A History of the Christian Festivals from Their Origin to the Present Day Kegan Paul Trench Trubner & Co Limited. p. 430.
  137. The Church of England rubric states: "The colour for a particular service should reflect the predominant theme. If the Collect, Readings, etc. on a Lesser Festival are those of the saint, then either red (for a martyr) or white is used; otherwise, the colour of the season is retained." See p. 532 here.
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