I love Lent. I think it might just be my favorite time of year. Yes, I love Advent and Christmas too, but there is something really special about Lent that really resonates with me. So, I thought I would kick things off for this liturgical season with a little information – What is Lent All About?
If you’re Catholic, this may be old hat for you, but I have found that a few Catholics actually didn’t know some of this information. If you’re not Catholic, welcome! I hope you find some helpful information here.
What is Lent All About?
Lent is the period of time beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending when the Holy Thursday Mass begins. From the Holy Thursday Mass until the evening of Easter Sunday is a period of time known as the Easter Triduum.
Since it begins with Ash Wednesday, the date that Lent begins changes each year. In 2023, Ash Wednesday is February 22nd. Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation but it is one of the most attended Catholic services of the year. On Ash Wednesday we receive ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads. These ashes are made by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. They are symbolic of our mortality and our need to prepare for entering the Kingdom of God.
Lent is a time of reflection and penance as we prepare for Easter. Because of this, the liturgical color for Lent is purple as this symbolizes penance and was considered the color of royalty. This season is characterized by the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
How Many Days are There in Lent?
Lent is technically 40 days long. If you count the number of days from Ash Wednesday through to Holy Thursday though, you will see that this is longer than 40 days. This is because we don’t include Sundays in that total. Sundays throughout the year are considered “little Easters” and are days of celebration and rejoicing.
If you want to give something up for Lent, as is often the practice, remember that this is a voluntary action. You can choose to give up something or add in something and you don’t have to do it for the entire season. However, many of us choose something for the entire Lenten period, except for Sundays. So, if you choose to give up chocolate, for example, you could then have some on Sundays if you want to follow that practice.
Is Lent Only for Catholics?
No! It is observed by some Orthodox churches as well as some Protestant ones. Even if your church doesn’t take part in Lenten practices, you still can, if you’d like. It can be an extremely meaningful experience.
What is the Purpose of Giving Up Something or Adding in Something During Lent?
I’ve heard some people say that it was meant to punish Catholics for their sin. Whew. That is not what has been put forth in any of the dioceses/archdioceses I have been a member of, though. The idea is to bring our focus more towards God and to the sacrifice of Jesus and the salvation He brings us through it and His resurrection.
So, you might choose to eliminate things that have taken away your focus – like television or social media – and to replace that time with attending Mass more often or going to Eucharistic Adoration or engaging in prayer. You might decide to give up some kind of treat and spend the money you save on a charity. The idea is not to punish yourself but rather to draw closer to Him.
What About the Days of Fasting and Abstinence?
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are called to fast and abstain from meat. The rules for fasting apply to those aged 18 to 59. Fasting means that you are permitted to eat one full meal and two smaller meals (that when combined do not equal another full meal). Abstinence rules apply to those 14 and over. It is as it implies – you are not to eat meat on those days.
Under the rules found in the CCCB, there is a rule for abstention every Friday of the year. However, on those days (other than Good Friday), you can choose to do an act of penance and good works in place of not eating meat. See more in the CCCB document “Keeping Friday” found here.
What Else Happens During Lent?
During this season, we no longer sing/pray the Gloria in Excelsis and we no longer say or sing the word “Alleluia”. In fact, some churches and families have the tradition of “burying the Alleluia” to symbolize that it will not be said or sung until Easter.
This can be done with a banner or even a piece of paper with the word on it that is then buried or hidden away and brought back out for the Easter celebration.