Lent is the annual Christian holiday that precedes Easter. Derived from the Anglo Saxon word "lencten," (which means "spring"), it's a special period of reflection, fasting, and penance practiced by Christians in preparation for Easter.
According to the 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy put forth by Pope Paul VI, the two main elements of Lent are the recalling of the sacrament of baptism and penance so that the members of the Church can "hear God's words more clearly" and "devote more time to prayer."
The season of Lent lasts 40 days to represent the amount of time Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and preparing for his ministry. Today, Christians may choose to give up luxuries like dessert or alcohol, or perform an act of kindness like volunteering, until the Lenten season is over.
The time period in which Lent takes place is determined by when Easter falls that year (which varies). Here's exactly when Lent will take place this year and why Christians observe Lent in the first place.
First of all, when is Lent?
Each year, when Lent happens is determined by the liturgical observance of Easter Sunday, which is moving Christian holiday. Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after the spring equinox, according to BBC.
From there, western and eastern churches differ a bit: In western Christian churches, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (the 7th Wednesday before Easter) and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). Eastern churches begin Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end on the Friday nine days preceding Easter.
This year, Easter is much later than usual, and falls on Sunday April 21, 2019. As a result, Lent will begin on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 and end on Saturday, April 20, 2019 for western Christians, according to the Liturgical Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States of America.
How did Lent come to be?
Since the earliest origins of the Church, there's evidence of a period of a Lenten preparation before Easter, according to Catholic Education Resource Center. It all began after Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River, which Matthew 3:13-17 says marked his messianic mission, and he headed to the dessert for 40 days.
According to BBC, 40 days is a significant number in Jewish-Christian traditions, representing the duration of the Great Flood in the Bible scripture Genesis, Moses's time spent in the wilderness before receiving the 10 commandments, and the days Hebrews spent in the desert before reaching the Promised Land.
During Jesus' 40-day fasting period in the desert, Christians believe he overcame temptations from Satan and a series of tests, which gave him the power to carry out his mission of preaching, healing, and saving humanity from sin once he returned.
There's historical evidence that "our forefathers" - also known as Jesus' apostles - fasted for 40 days, 24 hours a day before Easter. In fact, a letter written to Pope St. Victor I from St. Irenaeus in 203 A.D. mentioned the act of fasting for "40 hours" or "40 days, seven hours a day."
It was not until 325 C.E. that Lent was formalized during the First Council of Nicaea, according to Britannica. Strict fasting laws allowed for one meal a day, so long as no meat, wine, oil, or dairy products were involved. Aside from on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the strict fasting laws of Roman Catholics were renounced during World War II.
How is Lent observed today?
Today, Christians around the world still take the 40 days preceding Easter to fast and prepare for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday. However, how people fast often differs based on what branch of Christianity they follow.
Eastern orthodox Christians are more strict with their practices, as they continue to avoid wine, oil, and dairy products during the entire Lenten period (as well as during other fasting periods). In the west, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are full fast days, although some give up meat every Friday.
Besides fasting, some Christians give up luxuries or perform an act of good each day during Lent. Some things they may avoid include:
- Animal products
- Social media
- Watching TV
- Ordering take-out food
Some positive habits they may practice include:
- Reading 10 pages of a book every night
- Going to church every Sunday
- Walking to work instead of driving
- Volunteering once a week
- Saying three prayers a day
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