Learn About Lent and How It's Observed

The Lenten Season in Christianity

What Is Lent?
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Lent is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. The Lenten season is a time when many Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ - his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

During the six weeks of self-examination and reflection, Christians who observe Lent typically make a commitment to fast, or to give up something—a habit, such as smoking, watching TV, or swearing, or a food or drink, such as sweets, chocolate or coffee.

Some Christians also take on a Lenten discipline, such as reading the Bible and spending more time in prayer to draw nearer to God.

Strict observers do not eat meat on Fridays, having fish instead. The goal is to strengthen the faith and spiritual disciplines of the observer and develop a closer relationship with God.

Lent in Western Christianity

In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Technically 46, as Sundays are not included in the count). The exact date changes every year because Easter and its surrounding holidays are movable feasts.

The significance of the 40-day period of Lent is based on two episodes of spiritual testing in the Bible: the 40 years of wilderness wandering by the Israelites and the Temptation of Jesus after he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.

Lent in Eastern Christianity

In Eastern Orthodoxy, the spiritual preparations begin with Great Lent, a 40-day period of self-examination and fasting (including Sundays), which starts on Clean Monday and culminates on Lazarus Saturday.

Clean Monday falls seven weeks before Easter Sunday. The term "Clean Monday" refers to a cleansing from sinful attitudes through the Lenten fast. Lazarus Saturday occurs eight days before Easter Sunday and signifies the end of Great Lent.

Do All Christian Observe Lent?

Not all Christian churches observe Lent.

Lent is mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, and also by Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent or Great Lent, during the 6 weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter. Lent for Eastern Orthodox churches begins on Monday (called Clean Monday) and Ash Wednesday is not observed.

The Bible does not mention the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

Likewise, the word "Easter" does not appear in the Bible and no early church celebrations of Christ's resurrection are mentioned in Scripture. Easter, like Christmas, is a tradition that developed later in church history.

The account of Jesus' death on the cross, or crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection, or raising from the dead, can be found in the following passages of Scripture: Matthew 27:27-28:8; Mark 15:16-16:19; Luke 23:26-24:35; and John 19:16-20:30.

What Is Shrove Tuesday?

Many churches that observe Lent, celebrate Shrove Tuesday. Traditionally, pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) to use up rich foods like eggs and dairy in anticipation of the 40-day fasting season of Lent.

Shrove Tuesday is also called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday.

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Fairchild, Mary. "Learn About Lent and How It's Observed." ThoughtCo, Jun. 28, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-lent-700774. Fairchild, Mary. (2017, June 28). Learn About Lent and How It's Observed. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lent-700774 Fairchild, Mary. "Learn About Lent and How It's Observed." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lent-700774 (accessed November 25, 2017).