Christianity 201

February 21, 2012

Lent Begins

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I had little consciousness of the liturgical calendar beyond Christmas and Easter. There was also Thanksgiving, but then, how seriously could that be taken when it was observed more than six weeks apart in Canada and the United States?

To be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant however is to be aware of the ever changing liturgical season; it is more than the passing of time, rather, each cycle is complete retelling of the New Testament gospel story. I’ve come to believe that Evangelicals are somewhat shortchanged in this area, though non-Evangelicals are also missing out on other ministry and worship opportunities because they are slave to the calendar. Balance is found somewhere in the middle.

Part of the reason both sides miss out is due to a lack of understanding of how things came to be. With lent — which begins this year as of tomorrow morning with Ash Wednesday — while I’ll admit that Wikipedia is not always the ideal source for theological information, this article is very comprehensive.

Lent (Latin: Quadragesima, “fortieth”[1]) is the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxury as a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches bare their altars of candles, flowers, and other devotional offerings, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious paraphernalia are often veiled in violet fabrics in observance of this event. In certain pious Catholic countries, grand processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.

According to the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.[2][3] Thus, Lent is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. In many of the Christian churches, Lent is regarded as being forty days long, but the Sundays between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday are not typically regarded as being part of Lent; thus, the date of Shrove Tuesday will typically be slightly more than forty days before Easter Sunday.

This event, along with its pious customs are observed by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and some Baptists.[4][4][5][5] Lent is increasingly being observed by other denominations as well, even such groups that have historically ignored Lent, such as some Baptists and Mennonites[6]

One of the things I don’t see so much in literature is a comparison between the season of Advent and the time of Lent. While Advent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures the coming of the Messiah, Lent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

Both represent a long run-up to an event that we already know is to take place. There is a tension of wondering what happens next, even though we know the story. That tension is partly due to looking to see what happens next inside us. The anticipating of Christ’s coming is preparing our hearts to welcome Him and recognize Him as Divine. The anticipating of Christ’s suffering and death is preparing our hearts to receive what He is, in the narrative, about to do for us and has in fact already done. It is placing ourselves under the covering of His atoning sacrifice.

For those of Evangelical background like myself, the Wikipedia article includes significant dates falling within the next 40 days:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
  • Clean Monday (or “Ash Monday”) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. On Laetare Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing vestments of rose (pink) instead of violet.
  • The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide
  • The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him
  • Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples
  • Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial

I encourage you to read the whole article. The more Evangelical your background — especially if you are very Charismatic or Pentecostal, or very much part of a seeker-sensitive church — this will all seem rather foreign. But these traditions and forms had their origins in a church that was more vibrant than its descendant denominations today, and we do well not to toss out too much Church history.


  1. The fasting oft involved going off wheat – a gluten product. This season – spanning the equinox – is especially good time to avoid gluten as you will find that it creates problems. For example, ulcers act up around the equinoxes and may be related to gluten. So try cutting out wheat products or high gluten products during lent, esp if you struggle with tummy ulcers.

    Comment by George — February 21, 2012 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  2. used some text and ideas from this post to make an update into a facebook group of tribal friends. Thanks for the reminder of Lent.

    Comment by Brian — February 22, 2012 @ 8:45 am | Reply

  3. Nice and informative..Thanks… We can find opportunity to worship God even in tradition Darrell

    Comment by darrellcreswell — February 25, 2012 @ 8:14 am | Reply

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