What is Lent?
It is the 40-day period of repentance and renewal preceding Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. Holy Week commemorates Christ’s last week of life on earth. Lent is a special time for prayer, meditation and penitential practices. It provides a time for repentance and renewal. We are given this season to reflect with increased intentionality on Christ’s sacrifice and the resurrection, and it calls us to a renewal of our baptismal vows and to a recommitment to our Christian discipleship.
Where did Lent get its name?
The word “Lent” is derived from the Middle English “lente” which means spring or springtime. Because the church season always fell at that time of year, the name began to apply to it as well. The Lenten period allows Christians time to recall the Easter story and embrace its meaning. We affirm that Christ lived and died to redeem the world from sin.
How did Lent come to be part of the liturgical season within the church?
The Lenten period and its emphasis on penitential practices evolved slowly over the centuries. In the early church, baptism and penance were key Lenten themes. During Lent, candidates prepared for Easter baptism, and people did public penance for serious sins. In later years, the emphasis gradually shifted to private penance. Lent became a time of forgiveness and reconciliation for those who acknowledged their sinfulness. During the Middle Ages, strict 40-day fasts (abstinence from meat and other foods), not attending festivities, parties, etc., were obligatory for Christians. Gradually these practices became less rigid. Today the emphasis of Lent has shifted from long periods of fasting to prayer, meditation, and reflection on the meaning of Easter. Lent remains important as a time of preparation for and renewal of our baptism. We are invited to remember, repent, and reflect. Today, as in the past, the heart of Lent is inner penitence and reconciliation with God. It begins with self examination—a time to evaluate your life and seek spiritual renewal. The apostle Paul encourages us that achieving inner transformation, inner change, is the responsibility of each Christian and the church as a whole. We are ambassadors for Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Why does Lent last for 40 days?
The early church celebrated Lent for only a few days before Easter. Over the centuries, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at 40 days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12–12, and Luke 4:1–13). Fasting and prayer have been important observances since biblical times. They have often preceded great religious revelations or events. Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days. During that time, God gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:17–28). Elijah fled for his life through the wilderness, fasting 40 days and nights until he came to Mount Horeb. There God appeared and instructed him on how to overcome his enemies (Kings 19:1–18).
What does reconciliation with God look like?
It involves being sorry for our sins. Changing our life begins when we admit that Christ suffered and died for our sins. It involves commitment. Committing to God is more than attending worship on Sunday morning. It carries out God’s will daily, in all our circumstances. It requires perseverance, knowing that there are times of testing, trial, and temptation. And it involves spiritual growth. Our maturity begins when we acknowledge dependence on God and accept and seek to live out His will for our lives.
What are penitential practices?
Traditional Lenten practices include: fasting, special commitments, good deeds and almsgiving, prayer and reflection, studying Scripture and special study, and participation in special worship services.
How did the tradition of giving up something for Lent start?
Lent began as a time of purification and preparation. In the early church, baptism was performed on Easter Sunday. An entire year’s worth of converts to the faith would be baptized and brought into the church on that day. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ’s church. Over the centuries, the church began to baptize and confirm people on days other than Easter Sunday. Lent was no longer a time of preparation for these events, but it remained as a special time of prayer and fasting. After the Reformation, the discipline of fasting became less popular. As a way of preserving Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, the church leaders encouraged people to give up something (that they enjoyed) during Lent.
How do Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday relate to Lent?
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” and is the last day before Lent. Since Lent was traditionally a time of fasting, the day before it began was always a feast day. People had to use up eggs, butter, and other perishables that would not last through the Lenten season, and “Fat Tuesday,” also known as Shrove Tuesday, was celebrated with many traditional and tasty baked goods. The next day, Ash Wednesday was the official beginning of Lent. After much time in prayer, people would have their foreheads marked with ashes as a sign of repentance and humility.
What does Lent mean for us today?
Lent is still the season in which we prepare for Easter Sunday. It is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And it is a time to ready ourselves in humble thankfulness for the joy of Easter morning. We are given this time to prepare to meet our Risen Lord once again! Welcome to this season as we examine ourselves, wait and listen, study and worship, and get ready to celebrate the promise of the empty tomb.