Lent (Latin: Quadragesima: Fortieth) is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the tradition and events of the New Testament beginning on Palm Sunday, further climaxing on Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday, which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Roman Catholicism
- Byzantine Rite
- Oriental Orthodoxy
- Protestantism and Western Orthodoxy
- Other related fasting periods
- Associated customs
- Omission of Gloria and Alleluia
- Veiling of religious images
- Pre Lenten festivals
- Fasting and abstinence
- Media coverage
- Facts about Lent
- Easter Triduum
In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting, as well as "giving up" certain luxuries in order to "replicate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days." Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event. Throughout Christendom, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, most notably among Roman Catholics.
Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, before beginning his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan.
The English word Lent is a shortened form of the Old English word len(c)ten, meaning "spring season", as its Dutch language cognate lente (Old Dutch lentin) still does today. A dated term in German, lenz (Old High German lenzo), is also related. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'the shorter form (? Old Germanic type *laŋgito- , *laŋgiton-) seems to be a derivative of *laŋgo- long ... and may possibly have reference to the lengthening of the days as characterizing the season of spring'. The origin of the -en element is less clear: it may simply be a suffix, or lencten may originally have been a compound of *laŋgo- 'long' and an otherwise little attested word *-tino, meaning 'day'.
In languages spoken where Christianity was earlier established, such as Greek and Latin, the term signifies the period dating from the 40th day before Easter. In modern, Greek the term is Σαρακοστή, derived from the earlier Τεσσαρακοστή, meaning "fortieth". The corresponding word in Latin, quadragesima ("fortieth"), is the origin of the term used in Latin-derived languages and in some others: for example, Croatian korizma, French carême, Irish carghas, Italian quaresima, Portuguese quaresma, Albanian kreshma, Romanian păresimi, Spanish cuaresma, Basque garizuma and Welsh c(a)rawys.
In other languages, the name used refers to the activity associated with the season. Thus it is called "fasting period" in Czech (postní doba), German (Fastenzeit), and Norwegian (fasten/fastetid), and it is called "great fast" in Polish (wielki post) and Russian (великий пост – veliki post).
The terms used in Filipino are kuwaresma (from the Spanish) and Mahál na Araw ("precious/great days"); the latter term is also used specifically for Holy Week.
Various Christian denominations calculate the 40 days of Lent differently.
In the Roman Rite, the definition of Lent varies according to different documents. Lent ends on either Holy Thursday or Good Friday. While the official document on the Lenten season, Paschales Solemnitatis, says that "the first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance", the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar says, "The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive." The first source represents a period of 40 days and the second a period of 44 days, because both sources agree that the end of Lent comes the evening of Holy Thursday, before the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Though some sources try to reconcile this with the phrase "forty days" by excluding Sundays and extending Lent through Holy Saturday no official documents support this interpretation.
In the Ambrosian Rite, Lent begins on the Sunday that follows what is celebrated as Ash Wednesday in the rest of the Latin Catholic Church, and ends as in the Roman Rite, thus being of 40 days, counting the Sundays but not Holy Thursday. The day for beginning the Lenten fast is the following Monday, the first weekday in Lent. The special Ash Wednesday fast is transferred to the first Friday of the Ambrosian Lent. Until this rite was revised by Saint Charles Borromeo the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent was festive, celebrated in white vestments with chanting of the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluia, in line with the recommendation in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast, do not look gloomy".
The period of Lent observed in the Eastern Catholic Churches corresponds to that in other churches of Eastern Christianity that have similar traditions.
In the Byzantine Rite, i.e., the Eastern Orthodox, the forty days of Lent includes Sundays, and begins on Clean Monday (two days earlier than Ash Wednesday) and are immediately followed by what are considered distinct periods of fasting, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, which in turn are followed straightway by Holy Week.
Among the Oriental Orthodox, there are various local traditions regarding Lent. Those using the Alexandrian Rite, i.e., the Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Ethopian Catholic, Eritrean Orthodox, and Eritrean Catholic Churches, observe eight weeks of Lent, which, with both Saturdays and Sunday mornings exempt, has forty days of fasting. Fast generally implies one meal a day to be taken either in the evening or after 2.45 p.m. with total abstention from meat, fats, eggs and dairy products. Instead they use cereals, vegetables and other type of food devoid of fats. Smoking is a breach of the fast, which runs for a total of 56 days.
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. 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.
As in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the date of Easter is reckoned according to the Julian Calendar, and usually occurs later than Easter according to Gregorian Calendar used by Catholic and Protestant Churches.
Protestantism and Western Orthodoxy
One calculation has been that the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. This calculation makes Lent last 46 days, if the 6 Sundays are included, but only 40, if they are excluded, because there is no obligation to fast on the six Sundays in Lent. This definition is still that of the Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, Methodist Church, and Western Rite Orthodox Church.
Other related fasting periods
The number 40 has many Biblical references:
One of the most important ceremonies at Easter is 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 Catholicism 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.
There are traditionally 40 days in Lent; these 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 neighbours).
However, in modern times, observers give up partaking in vices and often invest the time or money saved in charitable purposes or organizations.
In addition, some believers add a regular spiritual discipline, to bring them closer to God, such as reading a Lenten daily devotional. Another practice commonly added is the singing of the Stabat Mater hymn in designated groups. Among Filipino Catholics, the recitation of Jesus Christ' passion, called Pasiong Mahal, is also observed. In some Christian countries, grand religious processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.
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. Thus, 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.
Omission of Gloria and Alleluia
The Gloria in excelsis Deo, which is usually said or sung on Sundays at Mass of the Roman Rite and Anglican rite, is omitted on the Sundays of Lent, but continues in use on solemnities and feasts and on special celebrations of a more solemn kind. Some mass compositions were written especially for Lent, such as Michael Haydn's Missa tempore Quadragesimae, without Gloria, in D minor, and for modest forces, only choir and organ. The Gloria is used on Holy Thursday, to the accompaniment of bells, which then fall silent until the Gloria in excelsis of the Easter Vigil.
The Roman Rite associates the Alleluia with joy and omits it entirely throughout Lent, not only at Mass but also in the Liturgy of the Hours as well as outside the liturgy. Before 1970, the omission began with Septuagesima. The word "Alleluia" at the beginning and end of the Acclamation Before the Gospel at Mass is replaced by another phrase. Before 1970, the whole Acclamation was omitted and was replaced by a Tract. Again, before 1970, the word "Alleluia" normally added to the Gloria Patri at the beginning of each Hour of the Liturgy of the Hours was replaced by the phrase Laus tibi, Domine, rex aeternae gloriae (Praise to you, O Lord, king of eternal glory). Now it is simply omitted.
Until the Ambrosian Rite was revised by Saint Charles Borromeo the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent was festive, celebrated with chanting of the Gloria and Alleluia, in line with the recommendation in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast, do not look gloomy".
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.
Veiling of religious images
In certain pious Catholic countries, before the Second Vatican Council, religious objects were veiled for the entire 40 days of Lent. Though perhaps uncommon in the United States of America, this pious practice is consistently observed in Goa, India, Malta, Peru, the Philippines (the latter only for the entire duration of Holy Week, with the exception of processional images), and in the Spanish cities: Barcelona, Málaga, and Seville. In Ireland, before Vatican II, when impoverished rural Catholic convents and parishes could not afford purple fabrics, they resorted to either removing the statues altogether or, if too heavy or bothersome, turned the statues to face the wall. As is popular custom, the 14 Stations of the Cross plaques on the walls are not veiled.
Crucifixes made before the time of Saint Francis of Assisi did not have a corpus (body of Christ) and therefore were adorned with jewels and gemstones, which was referred to as Crux Gemmatae. To keep the faithful from adoring the crucifixes elaborated with ornamentation, veiling it in royal purple fabrics came into place. The violet colour later evolved as a color of penance and mourning.
Further liturgical changes in modernity reduced such observances to the last week of Passiontide. In parishes that could afford only small quantities of violet fabrics, only the heads of the statues were veiled. If no violet fabrics could be afforded at all, then the religious statues and images were turned around facing the wall. Flowers were always removed as a sign of solemn mourning.
In pre-1970 forms of the Roman Rite, the last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide, a period beginning on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal is called the First Sunday in Passiontide and in earlier editions Passion Sunday. All statues (and in England paintings as well) in the church were traditionally veiled in violet. This was seen as in keeping with the Gospel of that Sunday (John 8:46–59), in which Jesus "hid himself" from the people.
Perhaps, in part, due to a general decline in piety and ornate Catholic artwork, in general, within many churches in the United States of America, after the Second Vatican Council, the need to veil statues or crosses became increasingly irrelevant and was deemed unnecessary by some diocesan bishops. As a result, the veils were removed at the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo during the Easter Vigil. In 1970, the name "Passiontide" was dropped, although the last two weeks are markedly different from the rest of the season, and continuance of the tradition of veiling images is left to the discretion of a country's conference of bishops or even to individual parishes as pastors may wish.
On Good Friday, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist churches used to veil "all pictures, statutes, and the cross are covered in mourning black", while the chancel and altar coverings are replaced with black, and altar candles are extinguished." The fabrics are then "replaced with white on sunrise on Easter Sunday." However, most Anglican churches now use purple fabric to cover the cross, etc.
The carnival celebrations which in many cultures traditionally precede Lent are seen as a last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. Some of the most famous are the Carnival of Barranquilla, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Carnival of Venice, Cologne Carnival, the New Orleans Mardi Gras, the Rio de Janeiro carnival, and the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
The day immediately preceding Lent is called Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), Pancake Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday.
Originally, in Lebanon and Syria, the last Thursday preceding Lent was called "Khamis el zakara". For Catholics, it was meant to be a day of remembrance of the dead ones. However, zakara (which means "remembrance", in Arabic) was gradually replaced by sakara (meaning "getting drunk" in Arabic), and so the occasion came to be known as Khamis el sakara, wherein celebrants indulge themselves with alcoholic beverages.
Fasting and abstinence
Fasting during Lent was more prominent in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while various others permitted fish, or fish and fowl, others prohibited fruit and eggs, and still others permitted only bread. In some places, the observant abstained from food for a whole day until the mid-afternoon or evening.
For Latin Catholics, by the early 20th century the theoretical obligation of the penitential fast throughout Lent except on Sundays was to take only one full meal a day and that around noon. In addition, a smaller meal, called a collation, was allowed in the evening, and a cup of some beverage, accompanied by a little bread, in the morning. In practice, this obligation, which was a matter of custom rather than of written law, was not observed strictly.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law allowed the full meal on a fasting day to be taken at any hour and to be supplemented by two collations, with the quantity and the quality of the food to be determined by local custom. The Lenten fast ended on Holy Saturday at noon. Only those aged 21 to 59 were obliged to fast. As with all merely ecclesiastical laws, particular difficulties, such as strenuous work or illness, excused one from observance, and a dispensation from the law could be granted by a bishop or parish priest. In addition to fasting, abstinence from meat was to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays and Saturdays in Lent.
A rule of thumb is that the two collations should not add up to the equivalent of another full meal. Rather portions were to be: "sufficient to sustain strength, but not sufficient to satisfy hunger".
The apostolic constitution Paenitemini of 17 February 1966 reduced the fasting days to two: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and allowed episcopal conferences to "substitute abstinence and fast wholly or in part with other forms of penitence and especially works of charity and the exercises of piety". This was made part of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which made obligatory fasting for those aged between 18 and 59, and abstinence for those aged 14 and upward.
The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference decided to allow other forms of Friday penance to replace that of abstinence from meat, whether in Lent or outside Lent, suggesting alternatives such as abstaining from some other food, or from alcohol or smoking; making a special effort at participating in family prayer or in Mass; making the Stations of the Cross; or helping the poor, sick, old, or lonely. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales made a similar ruling in 1985 but decided in 2011 to restore the traditional year-round Friday abstinence from meat. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has maintained the rule of abstention from meat on Friday only during Lent.
During the early Middle Ages, eggs, dairy products, and meat were generally forbidden. In favour of the traditional practice, observed both in East and West, 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." Aquinas also authorized the consumption of candy during Lent, because "sugared spices" (such as comfits) were, in his opinion, digestive aids on par with medicine rather than food.
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 cause of the crusade.
Giraldus Cambrensis, in his Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales, reports that "in Germany and the arctic regions," "great and religious persons," eat the tail of beavers as "fish" because of its superficial resemblance to "both the taste and colour of fish." The animal was very abundant in Wales at the time.
In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, abstinence from all animal products including eggs, fish, fowl, and milk sourced from animals (e.g., cows and goats, as opposed to the milk of coconuts and soy beans) is still commonly practiced, so that, where this is observed, only vegetarian (or vegan) meals are consumed for the whole of Lent, 45 days in the Byzantine Rite.
In the Western Catholic Church, the obligation to fast no longer applies to all weekdays of Lent (40 days), but only to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the tradition of this part of the Catholic Church, abstinence from eating some form of food (generally meat, but not dairy or fish products) is distinguished from fasting. Fasting involves having during the day only one proper meal with up to two "collations", light meatless meals sufficient to maintain strength but not adding up to the equivalent of a full meal. In principle, abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on every Friday of the year that is not a solemnity (a liturgical feast day of the highest rank); but in each country the episcopal conference can determine the form it is to take, perhaps replacing abstinence with other forms of penance.
Present canonical legislation on these matters follows the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, in which he recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. He also allowed replacing fasting and abstinence with prayer and works of charity in countries with a lower standard of living. The law of abstinence binds those age 14 or over, and that of fast binds those who are at least 18 years of age and not yet 60. The sick and those who have special needs are excused, and dispensations can be granted by episcopal conferences or individual bishops, which can be wider outside of Lent. Even during Lent, the rule about solemnities holds, so that the obligation of Friday abstinence does not apply on 19 and 25 March when, as usually happens, the solemnities of Saint Joseph and the Annunciation are celebrated on those dates. The same applies to Saint Patrick's Day, which is a solemnity in the whole of Ireland as well as in dioceses that have Saint Patrick as principal patron saint. In some other places, too, where there are strong Irish traditions within the Catholic community, a dispensation is granted for that day. In Hong Kong, where Ash Wednesday often coincides with Chinese New Year celebrations, a dispensation is then granted from the laws of fast and abstinence, and the faithful are exhorted to use some other form of penance.
After the Protestant Reformation, in the Lutheran Church, "Church orders of the 16th century retained the observation of the Lenten fast, and Lutherans have observed this season with a serene, earnest attitude." In the Anglican Church, Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, a companion to the Book of Common Prayer, states that fasting is "usually meaning not more than a light breakfast, one full meal, and one half meal, on the forty days of Lent." It further states that "the major Fast Days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as the American Prayer-Book indicates, are stricter in obligation, though not in observance, than the other Fast Days, and therefore should not be neglected except in cases of serious illness or other necessity of an absolute character."
Traditionally, on Sunday, and during the hours before sunrise and after sunset, some Churches, such as Episcopalians, allow "breaks" in their Lent promises. For Roman Catholics, the Lenten penitential season ends after the Easter Vigil Mass. Orthodox Christians also break their fast after the Paschal Vigil, a service which starts around 11:00 pm on Holy Saturday, and which includes the Paschal celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. At the end of the service, the priest blesses cheese, eggs, flesh meats, and other items that the faithful have been abstaining from for the duration of Great Lent.
Lenten traditions and liturgical practices are less common, less binding, and sometimes non-existent among some liberal and progressive Christians, since these generally do not emphasize piety and the mortification of the flesh as a significant virtue. A greater emphasis on anticipation of Easter Sunday is often encouraged more than the penitence of Lent or Holy Week.
Some Christians as well as secular groups also interpret the Lenten fast in a positive tone, not as renunciation but as contributing to causes such as environmental stewardship and improvement of health. Even some atheists find value in the Christian tradition and observe Lent.
During Lent, BBC's Radio Four normally broadcasts a series of programmes called the Lent Talks. These 15-minute programmes are normally broadcast on a Wednesday and have featured various speakers.
Facts about Lent
There are several holy days within the season of Lent:
In the Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, and many other churches, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins Maundy Thursday evening, with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. After this celebration, the consecrated Hosts are taken solemnly from the altar to a place of reposition, where the faithful are invited to meditate in the presence of the consecrated Hosts.This is the Church's response to Jesus' question to the disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Could you not watch with me one hour?" On the next day, the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 pm, 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, veneration 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, 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 Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and many Anglican churches, the priest's vestments are violet during the season of Lent. On the fourth Sunday in Lent, rose-coloured (pink) vestments may be worn in lieu of violet.
In some Anglican churches, a type of unbleached linen or muslin known as "Lenten array" is worn during the first three weeks of Lent, crimson is worn during Passiontide, and on holy days, the colour proper to the day is worn.