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What is Lent?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Lent is a time in many Western Christian Churches that marks the 40 days prior to Easter. Actually, there are 46 days, but Sundays are not counted in the days. It is a time for many Christians to prepare for Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, through prayer, fasting, and perhaps forgoing certain activities. Penitence for sins is valued above all.

For many Lent is also a time of grief, and a time of reflection on the nature of Christ and the crucifixion. One of the great heartaches of Christianity is the crucifixion of Christ, considered the head of the Christian Church. Yet, at the same time, many Christians hold that the suffering Jesus endured during the crucifixion is also the salvation of all Christians. Christ’s death absolves all Christians of sin and prepares the way for heaven.

Lent is often associated with fasting, but in many countries, rules for fasting during Lent are greatly relaxed. Old Catholic rules for example, used to require those over 18 and under 60 to fast until 3 pm on all days but Sunday during Lent. Further, eating meat, except for fish was forbidden. Today, many Catholics only abstain from eating meat on the Fridays during Lent, and they do not fast during the day.

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Many Christians see Lent as a time of giving up a beloved thing. They might give up something tangible like a favorite food, or something intangible, like being angry. The goal in these small privations is to be more Christlike. Understanding how difficult it is to give up something simple is directed toward understanding how challenging it must have been for Christ to give up his life and willingly be sacrificed in order to save all.

The forty days of Lent are related to many biblical references to forty days. For example, Christ’s time of fasting in the wilderness is forty days, the flood in the Old Testament lasted for forty days, and Moses wandered for forty days. In general, most biblical scholars simply believe using forty days was a convention for saying “a very long time.” Some also connect the forty days of Lent to the hours Christ was entombed prior to his resurrection.

Different Christian sects observe Lent in varied ways. In general, Lenten observations by Catholics and Orthodox churches are seen as the strictest. However, many American Catholics only nominally observe Lenten rules. In countries where the population is predominantly Catholic, like Ireland or Mexico, Lenten rules are followed to a much greater degree.

One exception in Catholic practice of Lent is St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day, when it falls in Lent is not a fasting day. People may indulge in meat and drink. Also, for a long time after the potato famines in Ireland, those who had endured starvation had dispensations not to fast during Lent.

The last week of Lent is considered extremely important in preparing to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. It begins with Palm Sunday. The days that follow are Holy Days. Of these, Good Friday comprises the longest ceremony. It is not a mass, but is rather, often a three-hour ceremony in church that includes reading of the crucifixion scene. Penitential prayers are offered and many may go to confession in Catholic Churches, on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Many observe the three hours, between 12-3pm. These are the hours in which Christ was crucified and finally died.

If people do not attend church services, they may read the bible at home or spend this time in contemplative prayer. Concentration on Christ’s suffering is important. In some cases, people reenact the Crucifixion, without actually crucifying anyone. However, according to current teachings by the pope, such reenactments are not really a good idea. They may stir resentment against today’s Jews and they fly in the face of the concept that since Christ died, Christians don’t have to endure the same level of suffering.

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jhaeS
Post 7

It's sad that along with modernization, traditional Christian events become forgotten. People are often more excited about the Easter season and the associated decorating of the house and preparing of food. The Easter season is not only about getting to the season, but also about going to church and making a renewal of our Christian vows. It's a time to make a change in our Christian lives and start over in becoming a better person.

anon168762
Post 6

On Fridays if you are over 14, you must not eat meat and 16 and older must fast all day. The last week of Lent is Holy Week. Also, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are not Lent, but their own month, the Triduum.

anon158828
Post 5

Jesus lived an amazingly short life on this earth. He has and will live in all epochs and gave humanity a model for eternal life. He made the ultimate sacrifice that no amount of 40 days of our self-sacrifice will pay for. He did it because we can't.

Our salvation comes from a personal acceptance and belief in Jesus and not from a self-motivated choice to give up something for awhile. My personal sacrifice is still lacking no matter the days compared to an eternity with Jesus Christ, who became my sacrifice. If Lent keeps you close to what Jesus is, then may God bless you and Christ reign in your life.

christym
Post 4

@dill1971: It is also said that a thorough, top to bottom cleaning of your house is traditional during Lent. It is a practical metaphor for renewal and purification. Get rid of clutter and organize your closets.

googie98
Post 3

@dill1971: These are some things that my family and church community do to observe Lent:

Decorate your home and/or church in purple. That symbolizes both death and suffering. It also represents royalty and hope for the resurrection.

Spend this time in prayer, repentance, and reflection. It is a time to do soul-searching, face your challenges and overcome your mistakes.

Many Catholics give something up during Lent. However, even if you are not Catholic, the voluntary surrender of a cherished item or pastime can have very powerful psychological and spiritual benefits.

dill1971
Post 2

What are some other ways to observe Lent season?

somerset
Post 1

Lent is a period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. It last 40 weekdays to mark 40 days Jesus prayed and fasted in the desert. For Christians it is a time of prayer, fasting and charity.

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