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 vigor during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor). Today, some people give up something they enjoy, and often give the time or money spent doing that thing to charitable purposes or organizations. Lent is a season of sorrowful reflection that is punctuated by breaks in the fast on Sundays (the day of the resurrection); thus, Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent. In the Roman Catholic Church, and many other liturgical Christian denominations, Maundy Thursday (also called Holy Thursday, especially by Roman Catholics), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday form the Easter Triduum. Because 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". The Lent semi-fast may have originated for practical reasons: in old times food stored away in the previous autumn was running out, or had to be used up 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 the Roman Catholic Mass as well as the 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. Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during the Lenten season; it is replaced before the Gospel reading by a Lenten acclamation. (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 on Holy Thursday.) Traditionally, the Alleluia was omitted at Mass beginning at Septuagesima, but since the Second Vatican Council, it has become customary to retain it until Ash Wednesday, although many traditionalists continue to practice the former custom.
Why 40 Days... The time period of the Lenten season is 40 days. We find Old and New Testament examples for this time frame of prayer and fasting. DIRECTIONS Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is actually forty-six days before Easter. We say that Lent is forty days in number because the six Sundays are excluded from the rigors of Lent in order to afford the faithful a time to pause and rejuvenate, gathering new strength. Since the restructuring of the Liturgical Year after Vatican II, the Easter Triduum, which begins on Holy Thursday, is not included in the Lenten season, so the actual days of rigorous Lenten observance are approximately forty days. The number forty is found frequently in scripture to signify either a time of penitential preparation, or a time of punishment and affliction sent from God. The Old Testament is replete with examples of the use of forty: God punished mankind by sending a flood over the earth that lasted forty days and forty nights (Gen 7:12); the people of Ninevah repented with forty days of fasting when Jonah preached the destruction of Ninevah (Jonah 3:4); Moses and the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for forty years (Num 14:34); the Prophet Ezekiel had to lie on his right side for forty days as a figure of the siege that was to bring Jerusalem to destruction (Ez 4:6); the Prophet Elijah fasted and prayed on Mount Horeb for forty days (1 Kings 19:8); and finally, Moses fasted forty days and forty nights while on Mt. Sinai (Ex 34:28).
In the New Testament we find Our Lord fasting and praying for
forty days and forty nights in the desert in preparation for the public ministry
that would end in his redeeming death (Luke 5:35).
He is the new Adam who overcomes the temptations of the devil and remains faithful to God; the new Israel, who reveals himself as God’s Servant by his total obedience to the divine will, in contrast to those who provoked God in the desert.
The Church sets aside the forty days of Lent in order that we might imitate Our Lord by our fasting, prayer, self-denial and good works, and thereby prepare our hearts for an Easter renewal.
“By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catholic Catechism, #540).
Lenten Fasting Regulations DIRECTIONS 1) Abstinence on all the Fridays of Lent, and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. * No meat may be eaten on days of abstinence. * Catholics 14 years and older are bound to abstain from meat. Invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt. 2) Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. * Fasting means having only one full meal to maintain one's strength. Two smaller, meatless and penitential meals are permitted according to one's needs, but they should not together equal the one full meal. Eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. * Catholics over 18 but not yet 60 years are bound to fast. Again, invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt. 3) Friday Abstinence Outside of Lent. * It should be noted that Fridays throughout the year are designated days of penance. The Code of Canon Law states that Friday is a day of abstinence from meat throughout the year. The American Bishops have allowed us to choose a different form of penance rather than abstaining from meat, but there must be some form of penance, for this is the day we commemorate Christ's suffering and death. The bishops stress that "[a]mong the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance...we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat".
We enjoy celebrating Palm Sunday. The children get to make paper palm branches and for many is one of the few times they get to take an active role in "big church." We wave the palm branches and celebrate. And we all love Easter Sunday! It is a happy time, with flowers, new clothes, and the expectation of Spring in the air. But it is too easy and promotes too cheap a grace to focus only on the high points of Palm Sunday and Easter without walking with Jesus through the darkness of Good Friday, a journey that begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a way to place ourselves before God humbled, bringing in our hands no price whereby we can ourselves purchase our salvation. It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before God, to strip ourselves bare of all pretense to righteousness, to come before God in dust and ashes. It is a way to empty ourselves of our false pride, of our rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creatures, of our "perfectionist" tendencies that blind us to the beam in our own eyes. Through prayer that gives up self, we seek to open ourselves up before God, and to hear anew the call "Come unto me!" We seek to recognize and respond afresh to God‘s presence in our lives and in our world. We seek to place our needs, our fears, our failures, our hopes, our very lives in God‘s hands, again. And we seek by abandoning ourselves in Jesus‘ death to recognize again who God is, to allow His transforming grace to work in us once more, and to come to worship Him on Easter Sunday with a fresh victory and hope that goes beyond the new clothes, the Spring flowers, the happy music.
Though originally of pre-Christian content, the traditional carnival celebrations that 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 West is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (trans. Fat Tuesday). But it begins in ashes. And it journeys though darkness. It is a spiritual pilgrimage that I am convinced we must make one way or the other for genuine spiritual renewal to come. I have heard the passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted a lot: ". . .if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." This usually is quoted in the context of wanting revival or renewal in the church, and the prayer is interpreted as intercessory prayer for others. But a careful reading of the passage will reveal that the prayer that is called for here is not intercessory prayer for others; it is penitential prayer for the faith community, for us.
It is not to call for others to repent; it is a call for us,
God‘s people, to repent. It is our land that needs healed, it is our wicked
ways from which we need to turn, we are the ones who need to seek God‘s face.
Perhaps during the Lenten season we should stop praying for others as if we
were virtuous enough to do so. Perhaps we should take off our righteous robes
just long enough during this 40 days to put ashes on our own heads, to come
before God with a new humility that is willing to confess, "Lord, be merciful
to me, a sinner." Maybe we should be willing to prostrate ourselves before God
and plead, "Lord, in my hand no price I bring; simply to the cross I cling."
That might put us in a position to hear God in ways that we have not heard Him
in a long time. And it may be the beginning of a healing for which we have so
O Lord, begin with me. Here. Now.
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