All About Lent Q: What is Lent? A:Historically, Lent is the forty day period before Easter, excluding Sundays, it began on Ash Wednesday and ended on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). In recent years, this has been modified so that it now ends with evening Mass on Holy Thursday, to prepare the way for Triduum. Q: Why are Sundays excluded from the reckoning of the forty days? A: Because Sunday is the day on which Christ arose, making it an inappropriate day to fast and mourn our sins. On Sunday we must celebrate Christ’s resurrection for our salvation.
It is Friday on which we commemorate his death for our sins. The Sundays of the year are days of celebration and the Fridays of the year are days of penance. Q: Why are the forty days called Lent? A: They are called Lent because that is the Old English word for spring, the season of the year during which they fall. This is something unique to English. In almost all other languages its name is a derivative of the Latin term Quadragesima, or “the forty days. ” Q: Why is Lent forty days long? A: Because forty days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible.
Thus Moses stayed on the Mountain of God forty days Jesus spent forty days in wilderness praying and fasting (Matthew 4:2). Since Lent if a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting for Christians to imitate their Lord with a forty day period. Christ used a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for his ministry, which culminated in his death and resurrection, and thus it is fitting for Christians to imitate him with a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of his ministry’s climax, Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (the day of the resurrection).
Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “‘For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning’ [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. ” (CCC 540). Q: When does Lent begin? A: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is the day on which they faithful have their foreheads signed with ashes in the form of a Cross (see piece on Ash Wednesday). It is also a day of fast and abstinence. Q: What is a day of fast and abstinence?
A: Under current canon law in the Western Rite of the Church, a day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast. In this country, one may eat a single, normal meal and have two snacks, so long as these snacks do not add up to a second meal. Children are not required to fast, but their parents must ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting. Those with medical conditions requiring a greater or more regular food intake can easily be dispensed from the requirement of fasting by their pastor.
A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years or older are required to abstain from eating meat (under the current discipline in America, fish, eggs, milk products, and condiments or foods made using animal fat are permitted in the Western Rite of the Church, though not in the Eastern Rites. ) Again, persons with special dietary needs can easily be dispensed by their pastor. Q: In addition to Ash Wednesday, are any other days during Lent days of fast or abstinence? A: Yes. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence.
Also, Good Friday, the day on which Christ was crucified, is another day of both fast and abstinence. All days in Lent are appropriate for fasting or abstaining, but canon law does not require fasting on those days. Such fasting or abstinence is voluntary, like a freewill offering. Q: Why are Fridays during Lent days of abstinence. A: This is because Jesus died for our sins on Friday, making it an especially appropriate day of mourning our sins (just as Sunday, the day on which he rose for our salvation is an especially appropriate day to rejoice) by denying ourselves something we enjoy.
During the rest of the year Catholics in this country are permitted to use a different act of penance on Friday in place of abstinence, though all Fridays are days of penance on which we are required to do something expressing sorrow for our sins, just as Sundays are holy days on which we are required to worship and celebrate God’s great gift of salvation. Q: Why are acts of repentance appropriate at this time of year? A: Because it is the time leading up to the commemoration of Our Lord’s death for our sins and the commemoration of his resurrection for our salvation.
It is thus especially appropriate to mourn the sins for which he died. Human have an innate psychological need to mourn tragedies, and our sins are tragedies of the greatest sort. Due to our fallen nature humans also have a need to have set times in which to engage in behavior (which is why we have Sundays as a set time to rest and worship, since we would otherwise be likely to forget to devote sufficient time to rest and worship), it is appropriate to have set times of repentance. Lent is one of those set times.
Q: What are appropriate activities for ordinary days during Lent? A: Giving up something we enjoy for Lent, doing of physical or spiritual acts of mercy for others, prayer, fasting, abstinence, going to confession, and other acts expressing repentance in general. Q: Is the custom of giving up something for Lent mandatory? A: No. However, it is a salutary custom, and parents or caretakers may choose to require it of their children to encourage their spiritual training, which is their prime responsibility in the raising of their children.
Q: Since Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent, does the custom of giving up something apply to them? A: Customarily, no. However, since the giving up of something is voluntary to begin with, there is no official rule concerning this aspect of it. Nevertheless, since Sundays are days of celebration, it is appropriate to suspend the Lenten self-denial on them that, in a spiritual and non-excessive way, we may celebrate the day of Our Lord’s resurrection so that that day and that event may be contrasted with the rest of the days of Lent and the rest of the events of history.
This heightened contrast deepens the spiritual lessons taught by the rest of Lent. Q: Is there such a thing as denying ourselves too many pleasures? A: Most definitely. First, God made human life contingent on certain goods, such as food, and to refuse to enjoy enough of them has harmful consequences. For example, if we do not eat enough food it can cause physical damage or (in the extreme, even death). Just as there is a balance between eating too much food and not eating enough food, there is a balance involved in other goods.
Second, if we do not strike the right balance and deny ourselves goods God meant us to have then it can generate resentment toward God, which is a spiritual sin just as much as those of engaging in excesses of good things. Thus one can be led into sin either by excess or by defect in the enjoyment of good things. Third, it can decrease our effectiveness in ministering to others. Fourth, it can deprive us of the goods God gave us in order that we might praise him.
Fifth, it constitutes the sin of ingratitude by refusing to enjoy the things God wanted us to have because he loves us. If a child refused every gift his parent gave him, it would displease the parent, and if we refuse gifts God has given us, it displeases God because he loves us and wants us to have them. Q: Aside from Ash Wednesday, which begins Lent, what are its principal events? A: There are a variety of saints’ days which fall during Lent, and some of these change from year to year since the dates of Lent itself change based on when Easter falls.
However, the Sundays during the Lenten season commemorate special events in the life of Our Lord, such as his Transfiguration and his Triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. Holy week climaxes with Holy Thursday, on which Christ celebrated the first Mass, Good Friday, on which he was Crucified, and Holy Saturday — the last day of Lent — during which Our Lord lay in the Tomb before his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the first day after Lent.