Lent: Big Old Ball O’ Fun?

LentNo, it’s not. Lent sucks. But, it’s supposed to suck; that’s kind of the point. Lent, for those of you who might not be familiar with it, is a liturgical season usually celebrated as winter comJeses to a close. It’s 40 days, not counting Sundays, of fasting, penance and prayer that is supposed to prepare Christians for the celebration of Easter. But, where did this idea that we should spend the days leading up to Easter in self-renunciation come from?  Why does it last forty days? Why don’t Sundays count? Why does it require fasting? Why don’t all Christians observe Lent? Good questions all. Let’s see if I can come up with some good answers.

  • Where did Lent come from? Evidence of some kind of preparation for the Easter celebration dates back to the earliest days of the church. St. Irenaeus wrote to Pope St. Victor I in about the differences in how Christians in the east and west prepared for Easter saying “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers”. The comment “in the time of our forefathers” is a reference to the apostles thus showing that some form of preparation for Easter has been around since the beginning. Ireneaeus was born in 130 and, while he wasn’t around when all this went down, his involvement predates the Roman legitimization of Christianity which many of us believe is when things went off the rails. And, that gives his views some weight. (From “History of Lent” by Fr. William Saunders)
  • Why does it last forty days? The number forty is one of those numbers that comes up with regularity in the Bible. God made it rain for forty days and forty nights causing the Great Flood;  Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai; the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years; Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness before He started His ministry and that’s just a few of the occurrences. But, in these examples, forty isn’t a literal number. Like seven and twelve, forty has a special significance. It usually points to trial and testing and ends with a period of restoration or renewal. (From Lent-Wikipedia)
  • Why does it require fasting? Fasting has always been a spiritual discipline in the church. It was a part of John Wesley’s spiritual regimen; he fasted two days a week (Wednesday and Friday). The purpose of fasting is to remind us that we are not self-sufficient and that we are fragile and dependent upon God. (From “What is fasting and why should I do it?“)
  • Why don’t Sundays count? Sundays aren’t counted as a part of Lent because you aren’t supposed to fast during them. Sundays are a mini-Easter and you can’t fast during what amounts to a weekly feast day. (From Lent-Wikipedia)
  • Why don’t all Christians observe Lent? There are a lot of different answers to this question, but what it really boils down to is that Lent is a Catholic tradition and some denominations or groups reject anything Catholic.

There you have the basics of Lent in 5 easy bullet points. I realize this doesn’t even scratch the surface, but I hope it’s a starting point and you do some study of your own.