Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent will officially begin. This is actually a special time in my “blogging” life as it was this time last year that I decided to seriously set fingers to keyboard and blog fairly regularly. Last year I began blogging with theseries called Lenten Lectio and here I’ve come full circle. I am thankful to have made it for a full year of pretty regular blogging and hope you have enjoyed what I have shared. I’m going to embark on the Lenten Lectio series again in which I will share some personal reflections on one verse from the weekly Sunday readings from the Book of Common Prayer lectionary. I’ll probably alternate weeks between Old Testament and New Testament readings. Also, I’m working on a Lent themed saint of the week so hopefully they will tie in as well.
If you’re reading this and are wondering what all this Lent business is about, do not worry. Let’s spend some time exploring the history of the practice of Lent. What follows is taken from last years post “What is Lent Anyways” introducing Lent. First, lets look at the history of the word “Lent”.
This word initially simply meant spring (as in the German language Lenz and Dutch lente) and derives from the Germanic root for long because in the spring the days visibly lengthen.
Lent, Online Etymology Dictionary.
So, Lent has roots in the turning of the seasons. The days start to get longer, lengthening the time we can spend outside. If you squint you can probably see the connection between the word Lent and the words length or long. So how about the 40 days, how is that significant?
Traditionally Lent is the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), beginning on Ash Wednesday. Why exclude Sundays? Sundays are considered mini Easter Sundays and you always break the fast to celebrate on Easter recognizing the resurrection of Christ. The origins of observing Lent and the settling on the length of 40 days are pretty murky as there was much diversity in the observances of the early Church. Fasting from food was always a big part of the Holy Week and Easter celebrations. It seems that the fasting expanded from the Easter weekend, to the whole week before and eventually up to the 40 days we are familiar with. It does seem that by the 4th century that observing the 40 days of Lent had become widely observed and recommended specifically by St. Athanasius. As for how the church settled on 40 days, the number 40 is widely used in scripture to denote sacred lengths of time, so it’s choice is not too surprising. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, the flood was caused by 40 days and nights of rain, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years and Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days before his temptation.
Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the “forty days”, or more literally the “fortieth day”. This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times.
-NewAdvent.com Catholic Encyclopedia: Lent
I’m glad we’ve settled on calling it Lent. Quadragesima is a mouthful.
It is generally believed that Easter was the time when new converts were baptized and initiated into the Church. Joining the church in the early Church was a lot longer process than the typical “sinners prayer” or membership class we might be familiar with today. It was a long process that featured a lot of teaching and discipling. You could not even participate in the Eucharist/Communion and certain parts of a service until fully initiated through baptism. Lent then became a time for the prospective initiates to fast and spiritually prepare themselves for their Easter baptism and initiation into the Church body.
Currently, Lent is still a time of fasting often from various types of food for many Christians around the world. Because the Lenten fast lasts 40 days people will often restrict themselves to only having one meal throughout the day. However, the practice of fasting varies greatly and now many people choose to fast from “something” rather than just food. Television, coffee, chocolate, Facebook, cell phones, elevators, alcohol, credit cards, etc. Today people often choose to eliminate the use of something from their life for 40 days that may be getting in the way of their relationship with God. Counter to that is often the choice to replace what their fasting from with some kind of spiritual discipline. Prayer, scripture reading, acts of service or contributions to charity.
I like how this prayer of St. Nicholas of Flüe captures the spirit of the Lenten season.
My Lord and my God,
take from me everything that distances me from you.
My Lord and my God,
give me everything that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God,
detach me from myself to give my all to you.
–St. Nicholas of Flüe
May it be your prayer, our prayer, as we prepare our hearts and minds during Lent.