Wednesday, March 5th is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Season of Lent. Lent commemorates the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. You can also think of it as commemorating Moses’ fasting for forty days on Mount Horeb with God, or Elijah fasting for forty days as he walked to Mount Sinai, or the forty days that God sent rain during Noah’s great flood. You can see that the Bible has several forty day times of penitence.
But if you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve, there are more than forty days. So, what gives? For Roman Catholics, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday of Holy Week), when the Paschal Triduum (3 days– Evening of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter) begins. For Protestants, Lent ends at the great Easter Vigil (sundown on Saturday of Holy Week). For both, Sundays are “in” Lent, but are not part “of” Lent. Every Sunday is a commemoration of the Resurrection, or a “little Easter” if you will, so they are not part of a penitential season like Lent. That means that technically, if you gave up something for Lent, you can have it on Sunday. So, if you don’t count the six Sundays in Lent, the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter is forty days.
The purpose of Lent is a time to reflect on our faults and failings, confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness, change our lives for the better and be generous. It is a great time to let go of the things that are not good for us: smoking cigarettes, over-eating, negative outlooks on life, or whatever causes us to be less healthy and whole. It is also a great time to take on some new discipline that will help us live better lives: eating healthy foods, getting more sleep each night, getting more exercise, observing a day of rest each week, being more generous. It is a time to change for the better. The idea is that if Jesus could fast for forty days in the wilderness, we could give up some little luxury or take on some little discipline as a small token of our love and gratitude to Jesus.
The word for Lent in Latin is quadragesima (forty days), but the English word “Lent” originally meant “longer.” It was the word for spring as the days get longer.
Since Lent is a time of reflection and penitence, Alleluias are not sung or said during the season. As a lesson for children, some churches physically put all of their Alleluias into a wooden box and bury them, and dig it up again before Easter. Others simply take their Alleluias and hide them until Easter. The idea is that if we have a period of discipline and self-denial, we appreciate the wonderful things in our lives all the more.
So, this Lent think of what good you can do for yourself and the world with a little discipline and self-denial. Then, just do it.