Lent - a brief outline
26th February – 12th April 2020
Lent is a period of forty days (not counting Sundays) that leads up to Easter.
It is a time of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial and spiritual discipline in preparation for Easter. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, his life, death, burial, and resurrection.
Traditionally Christians give up something during this time – a habit, such as smoking, swearing, or a food or drink, such as sweets, chocolate coffee or more popular now alcohol – to mark the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, which ends on Easter Day.
Many still do this, but the emphasis is now more on following a simpler lifestyle throughout the year. Those who give up something save the cost of these items for Church funds or a charity. For many Christians it is a time for study groups, and Bible reading.
In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Technically 46, as Sundays are not included in the count).
In this service the priest or vicar burns palms crosses which have been kept from last year and then mixes the ash with holy water to make a paste, during the service the priest or vicar dips his thumb in the paste and uses it to make the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead. The ash and the mark symbolises that Christians can show commitment to Jesus and to God, and to show how sorry they are for all the wrong things they have done during the past year and through Christs death and resurrection all Christians can be free from sin
The exact date changes every year because Easter and its surrounding holidays are movable feasts, this means that the date changes every year and can fall on any date from 22nd March to 25th April. The reason for the variation in the dates are based on the lunar calendar (the moon) rather than the solar calendar
The significance of the 40-day period of Lent is based on two episodes of spiritual testing in the Bible: the 40 years of wilderness wandering by the Israelites, and the Temptation of Jesus after he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.
In Orthodox churches, the spiritual preparations for Pascha (Easter) begin with Great Lent, a 40-day period of self-examination and fasting (including Sundays), which starts on Clean Monday (seven weeks before Easter Sunday) and culminates on Lazarus Saturday (eight days before Easter Sunday) which signifies the end of Great Lent. Fasting continues however during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter. Ash Wednesday is not observed.
The Bible does not mention the custom of Lent, although, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is a Biblical one. Likewise, the word ‘Easter’ does not appear in the Bible and no early church celebrations of the resurrection of Jesus are mentioned in the new Testament. Easter, like Christmas, is a tradition that developed later in Church history.
Many Christians who observe Lent celebrate Shrove Tuesday, also called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, (French for Fat Tuesday), the day before Lent starts. Traditionally, pancakes are eaten to use up rich foods or the ingredients like eggs and dairy in anticipation of the 40-day fasting season of Lent.
The name Shrove comes from the old English word ‘shrive’ which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to confess their sins so that they would receive forgiveness before the season of Lent began.