What is Lent?

Lent is traditionally described as lasting for 40 days, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, before beginning his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan. (image, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert), James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum)

Lent this year started on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 and ends on Saturday, April 20th 2019. In short, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. It always lasts for 40 days, mirroring the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. It can also be seen to mirror the 40 hours that Jesus spent in the tomb prior to his resurrection. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

During Lent many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain foods, habits or luxuries – for example sweets, alcohol, smoking – for its duration (the money saved is often then donated to charity). This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Purple is the color most associated with Lent – during this period purple church vestments (altar cloths and the priests’ liturgical garments) are used. The purple is symbolic in two ways: it is the traditional color of mourning (recalling Jesus’ death) and also symbolic of royalty (celebrating Christ’s coming as King).

The Gloria in excelsis Deo, which is usually sung on Sundays at Mass (or Communion) of the Roman and Anglican rites, is omitted on the Sundays of Lent, but continues in use on during special solemn celebrations like on Maundy Thursday. The Lutheran Divine Service, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Churches, and the Presbyterian service of worship associate the Alleluia are omitted entirely during Lent in the canonical hours and outside the liturgy.

The sixth Sunday in Lent, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter. Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. It is custom for some churches to hold sunrise services which include open air celebrations in some places.