When is Lent (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Christian populations
Observed on Forty days before Easter (Sundays excluded)
Observed by Most Christians
In Western Christianity Lent refers to the 40-day period before Easter, excluding Sundays. Eastern Orthodox Christianity calls this period “Great Lent” to differentiate it from the Advent, or Winter Lent that precedes Christmas. The German meaning of the word lent actually meant “spring renewal.” It particularly symbolized the lengthening of days as seen in the Saxon term for the month of March, Lenctenmonat.
The modern Dutch word for the spring season is lente; the Old Saxon and Middle Dutch term is lentin.
Whereas Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus after his Crucifixion, Lent is regarded as preparation for Holy Week (also known as Passion Week), which observes the events that led up to his Crucifixion by the Romans. Historically this took place around 29 C.E. in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, in Judea (Palestine).
Origins and History
Traditionally, the 40 days of Lent are spent abstaining from certain types of food and festivities, as well as indulging in different forms of penance (acts of self-mortification or devotion performed voluntarily to show sorrow for sins or wrongdoing). Traditionally, people forgo something they really enjoy and/or give the money or the time they usually spend in that activity to charities or organizations. Lent is a period of sad reflection that breaks the fast on Sundays (the day of Jesus’ Resurrection). Sundays are not included while counting the 40 days of Lent. Since Lent is a season of grief that ends with the celebration of Easter, the season is referred to in Eastern Orthodox Churches with an oxymoronic phrase, “Bright Sadness.” Though actually belonging to a ritual tradition that predated the Christian era, the Carnival celebrations that precede the Lent season in various cultures have become linked with this season of fasting because they offset the last opportunity to indulge in excess before abstinence begins. The most celebrated of the pre-Lenten Carnivals is Fat Tuesday (or, in French, Mardi Gras).
In ancient times fasting during Lent was a good deal stricter than it is today. Fish, eggs, meat, and milk products were forbidden, and there was provision for only one meal each day. Today the practice is much less strict in the West, though in Eastern churches abstinence from those food products is still practiced. Lenten practices have also come to be more frequently observed in Protestant circles than previously.
The present fasting practice of the Catholic Church covers everyone over 17 and under 60. On Good Friday and Ash Wednesday Catholics generally eat only a single full meal but may resort to two smaller meals as a means of keeping up their strength.
The combination of the two small meals should be of lesser quantity than the one full meal. There are also the laws governing abstinence, which pertain to those over 12 years of age. On abstinence days Catholics must not consume poultry or meat. According to Catholic dogma Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in the year are days of abstinence, though in many countries the rather strict abstinence law has been limited by bishops to Lenten Fridays and Ash Wednesday. On the remaining abstinence days the faithful are invited to perform acts of penance.
Christians consider fasting during Lent a way to identify with Jesus in his suffering. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
There are numerous holy days within the Lenten season. The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, when ashes are placed on the foreheads of the faithful. It is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and many Lutherans; the practice was also adopted by some Methodists and Presbyterians in the 1990s. Ash is an old symbol of mourning that can be found mentioned throughout the Bible; ash also represents the dust God used to create humans and to which humanity must return. The fourth Sunday of the Lenten season is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, predominantly, though not exclusively, by Catholics. That day was initially called Passion Sunday, but that term has been restricted officially to the last (sixth) Sunday of Lent (also Palm Sunday), which was the day Jesus entered Jerusalem as the “King of the Jews.” His coming generated celebrations among his followers and the citizens of Jerusalem, but it signified a big threat to the religious leaders as well as the civil authorities reporting to Rome. Jesus’ method of entry, however, was symbolic of the real purpose of his time on Earth. He entered on a donkey, indicating that he would accomplish his mission through sacrifice rather than violence. Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week (the week of the suffering of Jesus).
This is the last week of the Lenten season, which ends on the evening of Maundy Thursday. The day of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples is called Maundy Thursday. It was there that Jesus gave his disciples the new commandment, to “love one another” as he loved them. Good Friday is the day of Jesus’ death by crucifixion.