This article is primarily about the observance of Lent in Western Christianity. For Lent in Orthodox Christianity, see Great Lent
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent was also traditionally the term used to describe the period leading up to Christmas before the term of advent was officially recognised.
Conventionally it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.
In Western Christianity (with the exception of the Archdiocese of Milan which follows the Ambrosian Rite and therefore begins Lent exactly 4 weeks before Easter), Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at the Ninth Hour of Holy Thursday (44 days in the Catholic Church) or on Holy Saturday (46 days). The six Sundays in Lent are not counted among the forty days because each Sunday represents a "mini-Easter", a celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death.
In those churches which follow the Byzantine tradition (e.g. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics), the forty days of Lent are calculated differently: the fast begins on Clean Monday, Sundays are included in the count, and it ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. The days of Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are considered a distinct period of fasting. For more detailed information about the Eastern Christian practice of Lent, see the article Great Lent.
Amongst Oriental Orthodox Christians, there are various local traditions regarding Lent. The Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches observe a total of fifty-five days for Lent. Joyous Saturday and the week preceding it are counted separately from the forty day fast in accordance with the Apostolic Constitutions giving an extra eight days. The first seven days of the fast are considered by some to be an optional time of preparation. Others attribute these seven days to the fast of Holofernes who asked the Syrian Christians to fast for him after they requested his assistance to repel the invading pagan Persians.
The Lenten semi-fast may have originated for practical reasons: during the era of subsistence agriculture in the West as food stored away in the previous autumn was running out or had to be used before it went bad in store, and little or no new food-crop was expected soon (compare the period in Spring which British gardeners call the "hungry gap").In its earliest Christian form Lent was an intense period of fasting and prayer for catechumens preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil.
The word "lent" came from the Anglo-Saxon lencten meaning "Spring (season)".
The number forty has many Biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God ( ); the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb ( ); God made it rain for forty days and forty nights in the days of Noah ( ); the Hebrew people wandered forty years traveling to the Promised Land ( ); Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh forty days in which to repent ( ).
Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil ( , , ). Jesus 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" ( ), 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 forty hours in the tomb which led to the forty hours of total fast that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church (the biblical reference to 'three days in the tomb' is understood as spanning three days, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, rather than three 24 hour periods of time). One of the most important ceremonies at Easter was 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 baptism. 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. The less zealous converts were thus brought more securely into the Christian fold.
Traditionally, on Easter Sunday, Roman Catholics may cease their fasting and start again whatever they gave up for Lent, after they attend Mass on Easter Sunday. Other Western denominations have also followed this general principle to a greater or lesser degree, although some do not practice Lent and see it as an obscure tradition without Biblical merit.
In Latin the term quadragesima (translation of the original Greek tessarakoste, the "fortieth day" before Easter) is used. This nomenclature is preserved in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages (for example, Spanish cuaresma, Portuguese quaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima, Croatian korizma, Irish Carghas, and Welsh C(a)rawys).
In the late Middle Ages, as sermons began to be given in the vernacular instead of Latin, the English word lent was adopted. This word initially simply meant spring (as in German language Lenz and Dutch lente) and derives from the Germanic root for long because in the spring the days visibly lengthen.
There are traditionally forty days in Lent which 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 neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.
In many liturgical Christian denominations, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday form the Easter Triduum. Lent is a season of grief that necessarily ends with a great celebration of Easter. 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 the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service, and Anglican Eucharist, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is not sung during the Lenten season, disappearing on Ash Wednesday and not returning until the moment of the Resurrection during the Easter Vigil. On major feast days, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is recited, but this in no way diminishes the penitential character of the season; it simply reflects the joyful character of the Mass of the day in question. It is also used in the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during Lent; it is replaced before the Gospel reading by a seasonal acclamation. In the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite omission of the Alleluia begins with Septuagesima. During the lenten season, some Catholic Churches remove the holy water at the entrances of their churches. Instead of water, stones are place in.
Prior to 1970, the last two weeks of Lent were known as Passiontide, which began on what in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal is called the First Sunday in Passiontide and in earlier editions Passion Sunday, but is now the Fifth Sunday in Lent. All statues (and in England paintings as well) in the church were veiled in violet. This was seen to be in accordance with the Gospel of that Sunday ( ), in which Jesus “hid himself” from the people. The veils were removed at the singing of the Gloria during the Easter Vigil. Following Vatican II, and in the Reformed Kalendar of 1970, Passiontide was discontinued. Whether to maintain the tradition of veiling images is left to the decision of a country's conference of bishops.
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.
Although originally of pagan content, the traditional carnival celebrations which precede Lent in many cultures have become associated with the season of fasting if only because they are a last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. The most famous of pre-Lenten carnivals in the World are the ones celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, in USA it is the Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (literally "Fat Tuesday").
Fasting and abstinence
Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while others will permit fish, others permit fish and fowl, others prohibit fruit and eggs, and still others eat only bread. In some places, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal each day, while others abstained from all food until 3 o'clock. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without meat or alcohol was eaten. Even now, the Orthodox Churches continue the practice of avoiding all animal products including fish, eggs, fowl and milk sourced from animals (e.g. goats and cows as opposed to the milk of soy beans and coconuts) for the entire fifty-five days of their Lent.
During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs and dairy products were generally forbidden. Thomas Aquinas argued that "they afford greater pleasure as food [than fish], and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust."
However, dispensations for dairy products were given, frequently for a donation, from which several churches are popularly believed to have been built, including the "Butter Tower" of the Rouen Cathedral. In Spain, the bull of the Holy Crusade (renewed periodically after 1492) allowed the consumption of dairy products and eggs during Lent in exchange for a contribution to the conflict.
Giraldus Cambrensis in his Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales reports that "in Germany and the arctic regions," "great and religious persons," classified the tail of beavers as "fish" because of its superficial resemblance to a fish and their relative abundance.
In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstinence from the above-mentioned food products is still commonly practiced, meaning only vegetarian meals are consumed during this time in many Eastern countries. Lenten practices (as well as various other liturgical practices) are more common in Protestant circles than they once were. In the Roman Catholic Church it is tradition to abstain from meat from Ungulates (meaning roughly "being hooved" or "hooved animal") every Friday for the duration of Lent, although dairy products are still permitted. On Ash Wednesday it is customary to fast for the day, with no meat, eating only one full meal, and if necessary, two small meals also.
In some years, there have been exceptions to abstainence on Friday's during the Lenten Season. If Saint Patrick's Day March 17 falls on a Friday during Lent, the Bishop can dispense with the rules and Catholics can eat meat, especially the Irish, who on St. Patrick's day eat corned beef.
Contemporary legislation is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini. He recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation, and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. He also allowed that fasting and abstinence might be substituted with prayer and works of charity.
Pursuant to Canon 1253, days of fasting and abstinence are set by the national Episcopal conference. On days of fasting, one eats only one full meal, but may eat two smaller meals as necessary to keep up one's strength. The two small meals together must sum to less than the one full meal. Parallel to the fasting laws are the laws of abstinence. These bind those over the age of fourteen. On days of abstinence, the person must not eat meat or poultry. According to canon law, all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday and several other days are days of abstinence, though in most countries, the strict requirements of abstinence have been limited by the bishops (in accordance with Canon 1253) to the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. On other abstinence days, the faithful are invited to perform some other act of penance. A custom that developed later was to also give up something a person “enjoyed” receiving or doing for the duration of Lent. Although it is not required or part of any rule, many Christians today will also choose to give up something during the Lenten period.
Many modern Protestants consider the observation of Lent to be a choice, rather than an obligation. They may decide to give up a favorite food or drink (e.g. chocolate, alcohol) or activity (e.g., going to the movies, playing video games, etc.) for Lent, or they may instead take on a Lenten discipline such as devotions, volunteering for charity work, and so on. Roman Catholics may also observe Lent in this way in addition to the dietary restrictions outlined above, though observation is no longer mandatory under the threat of mortal sin. Many Christians who choose not to follow the dietary restrictions cite 1 Timothy 4:1-5 which warns of doctrines that "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth."
When observing fasting or abstinence during Lent, regard must be paid to the fact that Sundays are Feast Days, so there is no fast or abstinence. The days from Ash Wednesday to the day before Easter Sunday, excluding the Sundays, are forty, corresponding to the number of days Christ spent in the wilderness.
There are several holy days within the season of Lent.
- Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity.
- Clean Monday (or "Ash Monday") is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
- The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother's Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church.
- The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide.
- The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter.
- Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him.
- Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples.
- Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember His crucifixion and burial.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. After this Holy Thursday evening celebration, the consecrated hosts are taken from the altar solemnly to a place of reposition where the faithful are invited to worship the holy Body of Christ. On the next day the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 p.m., 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, adoration 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, and 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.
In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and many Anglican churches, the priest's vestments are violet during the season of Lent. On the fourth Sunday in Lent, rose-coloured vestments may be worn in lieu of violet. In some Anglican churches, a type of unbleached linen or muslin known as Lenten array is used during the first three weeks of Lent, and crimson during Passiontide. On holy days, the colour proper to the day is worn.
|Look up lent in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Ash Wednesday
- Clean Monday
- Cold Food Festival
- Fasting and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church
- Fasting and abstinence of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
- Eastern Orthodox Church: Fasting
- Good Friday
- Maundy Thursday
- People's Sunday
- Shrove Tuesday
- Tisha B'Av
- "What is Lent and why does it last forty days?". The United Methodist Church. http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=2870. Retrieved 2007-08-24.
- "The Liturgical Year". The Anglican Catholic Church. http://www.anglicancatholic.org/dmas/litdescp.html. Retrieved 2007-08-24.
- Thurston, Herbert (1910), "Lent", The Catholic Encyclopedia, IX, New York: Robert Appleton Company, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm, retrieved 2008-02-15
- Catholic Encyclopedia - Lent See paragraph: Duration of the Fast
- Lent & Beyond: Dr. Peter Toon—From Septuagesima to Quadragesima
- The Restored Church of God: The True Meaning of Lent
- Online Etymology Dictionary, Lent. Retrieved 2009-03-08.
- Spirit Home: Lent—disciplines and practices
- General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 19
- Summa Theologica Q147a8.
- Implicaciones económicas del miedo religioso en dos instituciones del Antiguo Régimen: la Inquisición y la Bula de Cruzada., Alejandro Torres Gutiérrez, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Millennium:Fear and Religion.
- Colin B. Donovan, Fast and Abstinence. Accessed 2007-12-28.
- Lent: Catholic Encyclopedia
- United Methodist Church: Lent and Easter
- Lent: Prayer and Practice
- Coptic Orthodox Lenten Resources
- Lent in the Armenian Orthodox Church tradition
- The Season of Lent at the Christian Resource Institute
- Online Lenten Devotional
- Liturgical Resources
- United Methodist Church: Lent and Easter Resources
- Lent and Fasting in the Ukrainian Church — differences between Lent in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
- The Season of Lent in the Catholic Church
- Daily Prayer Guide for Lent
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