Christianity: About Lent

Lent: 40 days of preparationThis year, 2020, the Christian season of Lent commences on Ash Wednesday, the 26th of February 2020.
What follows is a brief list of Lent, its purposes and practices, including fasting. We conclude with the Litany of Saints, a traditional chant seeking the mercy of God.

What is Lent?

  • A season of focused attention on the life of the spirit, on the love of God and neighbour.

When is Lent?

  • Lent prepares us for Easter
  • It begins on Ash Wednesday and extends through six Sundays
    (the last of these is Palm Sunday)
  • In 2020 Ash Wednesday is February 26th

40 days

Lent is traditionally considered to be 40 days – though there are two ways to count to 40.

  1. Starting on the first Sunday in Lent it is 40 days until the beginning of the three day observance of the Cross and resurrection that begins on the Evening of Maundy Thursday.
  2. Starting on Ash Wednesday and counting until Easter, but skipping the Sundays – since we should not fast on Sunday as it is a festival of the resurrection.

Why 40?

  • Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism (when he was tempted by Satan).
  • Israel journeyed 40 years through the wilderness preparing to enter the Promised Land.
  • Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai to receive God’s Word in the form of the 10 Commandments.
  • Elijah fasted 40 days before meeting God on Mt. Sinai.
  • It rained 40 days and 40 nights to wash the earth of humanity’s sin while Noah was on the Ark.

What does the word Lent mean?

  • It’s from an old English word meaning spring, since Jesus was crucified at Passover, which occurs in the spring.

Why Purple?

  • When the soldiers tortured Jesus they put a purple robe on him and a crown of thorns, mocking the hope that he was the Messiah (a king).

The Spiritual Practices of Lent

  • A variety of traditional practices (or disciplines, since they make us better disciples) help deepen our Christian life.
  • The spiritual practices that are central to this season are
  • Worship
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Study
  • Charity
  • Service
  • These practices are not separate from each other, but connect and enrich one another.
  • Spiritual Disciplines should call us into our deeper, better selves. 

Ash given on Ash Wednesday


Fasting in Christianity is the intentional commitment to withdraw from some particular pleasure or practice for a period of time for the purpose of deepening our connection with God and others.

  • From the practice of fasting during Lent we get familiar with the idea of “giving up” something for Lent.
  • Fasting is usually associated with food, in keeping with the Biblical notion that “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
  • Typically, the Lenten fast is a partial fast, giving up one thing or category of things.
  • Fasting is not an exercise of willpower, but a dedication of our lives to God.
  • Fasting reminds us of the hunger of others.  It should lead us to deeper compassion for others.
  • Fasting reveals the heart.  In our hunger, we discover things about ourselves.
  • Fasting needs to be coupled with prayer, so that our hunger brings us to prayer for someone or something.
  • Traditionally people gave up sweets or luxuries.  In the medieval period people gave up fats, sugar and eggs – thus the tradition of “Pancake Tuesday” the day before Ash Wednesday when people ate pancakes and sweets.  Many congregations have a pancake supper. 

The Spiritual Value of Fasting

  • The concept of fasting in Lent is especially connected to the needs of the poor.  We eat more simply so that we have something to share with the hungry.  Thus the idea of a soup supper.
  • Fasting is also connected to prayer.  The experience of hunger makes us sensitive to the needs of others and calls us to pray for them.
  • Fasting is also a discipline.  It is an action dedicated to God, calling us to put God first, ahead of our wants, needs or desires.
  • If we go without some of those things we say we “can’t live without” we discover that “life is more than food and clothing.”
  • A fast is not just what you stop doing – it may also be what you choose to do.

A few possible ideas:

  • Give up sweets and give the money to the local food bank.
  • Give up your daily Coffee “on the go” and give the money to a local charitable group
  • Give up alcohol for Lent
  • Commit to reducing consumption of meat and increase your consumption of plants and vegetables.

Some Practical advice

  • What you give up should be something attainable.
  • What you give up should be something you will notice.  It doesn’t accomplish anything in me to give up something that is not important to me or that I wouldn’t eat or do anyway.

Litany of the Saints



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