Often I forget that many other people do not know what Lent is in the Christian tradition. I was explaining Lent to a Starbucks barrista this afternoon (near the Jesuit high school) Lent, like Advent, is a penititial season, a time to prepare for Christ, in this case resurrection. Sundays are considered mini-Easters and are not part of the Lenten season. So party on Sunday, dude.
I commonly do not make New Years resolutions, but I do have a Lenten routine, I give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays (and if I was really good, the money I would spend on meat would go to charity.) This year Im going to the gym to work out with weights three times a week (its also good prayer time) and the webmaster and I are either studying the Christian mystics, going through Erdmanns Bible Commentary or studying icons as a Lenten home study program. The Webmaster is giving up fat. but heck if Im giving up sugar or chocolate; the two things I really should give up, right? So our Lenten goals are getting in shape, eating healthier and getting in spiritual shape too. Why would anyone do something like that?
In case you havent got a clue about Lent and why you would give up something you enjoy during Lent, I thought I would give you a brief refresher on Lent.
In Western Christianity, Lent is the period before the Christian holy day of Easter. Eastern Christianity calls this period Great Lent, to distinguish it from the Winter Lent or Advent that precedes Christmas (though in Greek, the two periods are the "Great Fast" and the "Nativity Fast"). The rest of this article will discuss Lent as it is understood and practiced in Western Christianity, except when as noted.
It covers the forty days before Easter, not including Sundays. The Wednesday beginning Lent is known as Ash Wednesday. The dating of Easter, which determines that of Lent, is discussed elsewhere. Roughly speaking, Lent starts in late winter in the Northern Hemisphere (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) and ends in early spring (or fall). The earliest Lent can begin is on February 4 and the latest it can end is April 24 (if Easter Sunday should occur on April 25).
The Germanic origin of the word Lent (e.g. Anglo-Saxon lencten) originally meant the season of spring, referring to the lengthening of days as reflected in a word for March: Lenctenmonat. It has substituted since Anglo-Saxon times for the more significant Latin term quadragesima or the "fortieth day" before Easter, which is preserved in the Romance languages terms for the Lenten season. Lent is also preserved in the common Dutch word for the spring season, which is called Lente.
Whereas Easter celebrates The Resurrection of Jesus after his death on the Cross, Lent is concerned with preparation for Holy Week (also known as Passion Week for Catholics who worship in the new rite of the Mass), which recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus crucifixion by Rome. This took place around CE 29, in Roman-occupied Jerusalem in Judea province.
There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. Today, some people give up something they enjoy, and often give the time or money spent doing that thing to charitable purposes or organizations. Lent is a season of sorrowful reflection that is punctuated by breaks in the fast on Sundays (the day of the resurrection). Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent. (Alternatively, the Sundays, which are indeed called Sundays of Lent in the Liturgy, can be counted to forty days if one begins counting on the First Sunday of Lent and counts up to and including Holy Thursday, three days before Easter). In the Roman Catholic Church, and many other liturgical Christian denominations, Maundy Thursday (also called Holy Thursday, especially by Roman Catholics), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday forms the Easter Triduum, rather than being part of Lent. Ash Wednesday and the three days following it would not be part of Lent proper, constituting a "Lenten Prelude" instead. Because Lent is a season of grief that necessarily ends with a great celebration of Easter, it is known in Eastern Orthodox circles as the season of "Bright Sadness".
The Lent semi-fast may have originated for practical reasons: in old times food stored away in the previous autumn was running out, or had to be used up before it went bad in store, and little or no new food crop was expected soon: compare the period in spring which British gardeners call the "hungry gap".
In the Roman Catholic Mass, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is not sung during the Lenten season, disappearing on Ash Wednesday and not returning until the moment of the Resurrection during the Easter Vigil. Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during the Lenten season; it is replaced before the Gospel reading by a Lenten acclamation. (On major feast days, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is recited, but this in no way diminishes the penitential character of the season; it simply reflects the joyful character of the Mass of the day in question.) Traditionally, the Alleluia was omitted at Mass beginning at Septuagesima, but since the Second Vatican Council, it has become customary to retain it until Ash Wednesday, although many traditionalists continue to practice the former custom.