What Is Lent?

The Season of Preparation for Easter

Ash Wednesday 2008 at Saint Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, LA. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
A woman prays after receiving ashes on her forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday at Saint Louis Cathedral, February 6, 2008, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Lent is the 40-day period of preparation for Easter Sunday and one of the major liturgical seasons of the Catholic, Orthodox, and certain Protestant churches.

A penitential season marked by prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving, Lent begins on either Ash Wednesday (for Latin Rite Catholics and those Protestants who observe Lent) or Clean Monday (for Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox).

As a liturgical season, Lent ends on Holy Thursday, though the Lenten fast (the "40 days of Lent") continues through Holy Saturday. (For more details, see When Does Lent End?)

Pronunciation: lent

Common Misspellings: Lint, Lend

Example: "In order better to prepare ourselves for Easter, my children and I always give up television for Lent."

The Origin of the Term

The English word Lent comes from the Old English lencten, by way of Middle English lente. Both the Middle English and Old English terms refer to springtime, and literally to the lengthening of the daylight hours that occurs in the spring.

Related Terms

In the traditional liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, Lent is preceded by Septuagesima Sunday, Sexagesima Sunday, and Quinquagesima Sunday. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the final day of feasting before the Lenten fast begins.

The period of Lent is known as Great Lent or Great and Holy Lent in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches; historically, as Lententide in English-speaking countries (a term still common in the Anglican Church); and as Quadragesima (literally, the 40th day) in Latin, the official liturgical language of the Catholic Church.

Numerous holy days and feasts fall during Lent, including the Lenten Ember Days, Clean Monday, Ash Wednesday, Laetare Sunday, Palm Sunday, Spy Wednesday, Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The days from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday make up Holy Week, which is also known as Passiontide.

The final three days of Holy Week are known as the Easter Triduum, and Holy Week ends with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, when the celebration of Easter Sunday begins.

Lent in Other Countries and Cultures

Christians in various countries and cultures celebrate Lent in very different ways. Learn more about the Lenten customs of Mexico, Serbia, Greece, and Germany, and find a variety of meatless recipes for Lent from around the world.

Lenten Practices

Learn More About Lent