Lent - Overview

What is Lent?

Lent is the forty-day period (or season) lasting from Ash Wednesday to
Holy Thursday.  Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and
April 25, roughly corresponding to early spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  This year Easter falls on 4 Apr 2010.

Ash Wednesday, which may fall anywhere between February 4 and March 10, occurs 46 days before Easter, but Lent is nevertheless considered to be 40 days long, due to the fact that Sundays in this season are not counted among the days of Lent.  The traditional reason for this is that fasting was considered inappropriate on Sunday, the day commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus. 

Lent is a time of preparation for Holy Week, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in the Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a special time of seeking God; it is a time to renew our quest and nourish our faith.

As a Catholic you have certain obligations during Lent and Easter.  Click here to learn more.

History of Lent

Lent is closely associated with the transition from winter to spring.  The word "lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for springtime, Lencten.  This describes the lengthening of days after the winter solstice (21 Dec).  In the second century, Christians would fast for 2 days before Easter as a preparation for the holy feast.  By the third century, this fast extended to all of Holy Week.  It is the fourth century that we see the development of a period of preparation up to Holy Week, the foundation of the Lenten season as we know it today.

For the first three centuries people interested in becoming Christian had to first withdraw from the pagan practices and loyalties and be taught how to live a new way of life.  Once they achieved this, they were admitted into a process of being a candidate for baptism.  During this final period of preparation they received intense instruction, submitted to exorcisms, participated in special rituals and fasted in preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil.  Many of these ceremonies were held in small churches to avoid any chance of being persecuted.  When Roman persecution ended in 313, the instruction became more public and a catechumenate (from the Greek work katechein, "to teach") was usually formed to instruct people as a group in which a period of fasting also took place.  The community supported the new candidates through prayer and encouragement.

During the fourth century, the preparation for baptism was joined by fasting and penitential practices before Easter with a focus on public confession of sins and crimes.  During the Middle Ages, Lent became the time to emphasize forgiveness for personal sins.  This gave Lent its more somber theme with purple (color of penitence) vestments used at masses during this season.  Weddings were prohibited from being celebrated during Lent due to the joyfulness of the occasion in contrast with the penitential atmosphere of the season.  To this day celebration of weddings are discouraged during this season unless some good pastoral reason is given.

Source:  Catholic Customs and Traditions:  A Popular Guide by Greg Dues

Make Time for Lent

People of all ages struggle to find time to spend in prayers, sacrifice, and service during Lent as well as during the rest of the year.  If our lives are as busy as we say they are, then making time for Lent requires that we take time from somewhere else and use it for prayer, service, and repentance.  We must be willing to sacrifice that most valuable of our human assets - time.

Questions to Answer

v  How can I use these forty days to grow closer to my God?

v  How can I use these forty days to become a more loving person?

v  What can I change about myself to become more Christ-like?

v  How can I bring the Easter light to the dark places in my corner of the world?

Customs during the time of Lent

There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigor during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor). Today, some people give up something they enjoy, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.

In many liturgical Christian denominations, Maundy Thursday (also called "Holy Thursday," especially by Roman Catholics), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday form the Easter Triduum. Lent is a season of grief that necessarily ends with a great celebration of Easter, it is known in Eastern Orthodox circles as the season of "Bright Sadness." It is a season of sorrowful reflection which is punctuated by breaks in the fast on Sundays.

The Lent semi-fast may have originated for practical reasons: during the era of subsistence agriculture in the West as food stored away in the previous autumn was running out, or had to be used up before it went bad in store, and little or no new food-crop was expected soon (compare the period in Spring which British gardeners call the "hungry gap").

In the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service, and Anglican Eucharist, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is not sung during the Lenten season, disappearing on Ash Wednesday and not returning until the moment of the Resurrection during the Easter Vigil. On major feast days, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is recited, but this in no way diminishes the penitential character of the season; it simply reflects the joyful character of the Mass of the day in question. It is also used on Maundy Thursday. Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during Lent; it is replaced before the Gospel reading by a seasonal acclamation.

Traditionally, the Alleluia was omitted at Mass beginning at Septuagesima, but in the Missal of Paul VI (1969) promulgated after the Second Vatican Council it is retained it until Ash Wednesday. The older practice is retained in the Missal of John XXIII (1962) which is attended by traditionalists.


All who have reached their 14th birthday are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays during Lent.

Charity (Most Reverend Joseph A. Pepe)

During this Holy Season of Lent, we are invited to open our hearts and lives to the wondrous grace and forgiveness offered by Christ.  We are to grow in appreciation of the Saving Acts of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and heed the Church's invitation to bring them into our lives.  Life is a precious gift from God that we must cherish always.  Lent is a reminder to reflect in our daily lives the Easter Mysteries we are preparing to celebrate.  Worship, prayer, fasting and giving generously to those in need are ways we Catholics have traditionally celebrated the Lenten Season.


We have the potential to enrich our community through our selfless giving, good deeds, and acts of kindness.  This is especially important during these difficult economic times, as we are called upon to alleviate the hardship experienced by our neighbors.  The call of Charity to provide for the less fortunate among us is our expression of gratitude to God for the many blessings we have received.  Nothing brings us closer to the Lord than our loving care of our brothers and sisters.


Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.  For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:13


St. Patrick's Church at Moody Air Force Base