When Does Lent End?

Various Churches Have Differing Opinions

Pope Francis Conducts The Palm Sunday Celebrations In St Peter's Square
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Every year, the debate rages among Christians about when Lent ends. Some people believe Lent ends on Palm Sunday or the Saturday before Palm Sunday, others say Holy Thursday, and some say Holy Saturday. What is the simple answer?

There is not a simple answer. This can be considered a trick question since the answer depends on your definition of Lent, which can be different based on the church you follow.

The End of the Lenten Fast

Lent has two starting days, Ash Wednesday and Clean Monday. Ash Wednesday is considered the start in the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches that observe Lent. Clean Monday marks the start for the Eastern Churches, both Catholic, and Orthodox. So, it stands to reason that Lent has two ending days.

When most people ask "When does Lent end?" what they mean is "When does the Lenten fast end?" The answer to that question is Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday), which is the 40th day of the 40-day Lenten fast. Technically, Holy Saturday is the 46th day of Ash Wednesday, including both Holy Saturday and Ash Wednesday, the six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday are not calculated in the Lenten fast. 

The End of the Liturgical Season of Lent

Liturgically, which means basically if you follow along in the Roman Catholic rulebook, Lent ends two days earlier on Holy Thursday. This has been the case since 1969 when "General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar" was released with a revised Roman calendar and revised Novus Ordo Mass. Paragraph 28 states, "Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive." In other words, Lent ends just before the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday evening, when the liturgical season of the Easter Triduum begins.

Until the revision of the calendar in 1969, the Lenten fast and the liturgical season of Lent were coextensive; meaning both began on Ash Wednesday and ended on Holy Saturday.

Holy Week Is Part of Lent

One answer that is commonly given to the question "When does Lent end?" is Palm Sunday (or the Saturday before). In most cases, this stems from a misunderstanding of Holy Week, which some Catholics incorrectly think is a separate liturgical season from Lent. As paragraph 28 of the General Norms shows, it is not.

Sometimes, it stems from a misunderstanding of how the 40 days of the Lenten fast are calculated. Holy Week, up until the Easter Triduum starts on the evening of Holy Thursday, is liturgically part of Lent. And all of Holy Week, through Holy Saturday, is part of the Lenten fast.

Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday?

You can calculate the day that Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday fall on to determine the end of your Lent observance.

More About Lent

Lent is observed as a solemn period. It is a time to be penitent and meditative and in order to do that there are certain things that believers do to mark their sorrow and devotion, including not singing joyful songs like Alleluia, giving up foods, and following rules about fasting and abstinence. For the most part, the strict rules lessen on Sundays during Lent, which is technically not considered part of Lent. And, altogether, Laetare Sunday, just past the midway point of the Lenten season, is a Sunday to rejoice and take a break from the solemnity of the Lenten period.