Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Season of Lent
Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days.
Lent, in Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to the greatest Christian feast, Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different churches and denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.
This practice was virtually universal in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation. Some Protestant churches do not observe Lent, but many, such as Lutherans, Methodists, and Anglicans do.
Lent was also traditionally the term used to describe the period leading up to Christmas before the term Advent was officially recognized.
Where does the word "Lent" come from?
The Teutonic (High German) word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times. In Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, it is known as "Pra-Paska"
How is the 40 days calculated?
The Western Church
Because Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, we skip over Sundays when we calculate the length of Lent. Therefore, in the Western Church, Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter.
In many countries, the last day before Lent (called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching) has become a last fling before the solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat.
The Eastern Church
The Eastern Church does not skip over Sundays when calculating the length of the Great Lent. Therefore, the Great Lent always begins on Clean Monday, the seventh Monday before Easter, and ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday—using of course the eastern date for Easter. The Lenten fast is relaxed on the weekends in honor of the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Resurrection (Sunday). The Great Lent is followed by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, which are feast days, then the Lenten fast resumes on Monday of Holy Week. Technically, in the Eastern Church, Holy Week is a separate season from the Great Lent.