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Cross veiled during Passiontide in Lent (Pfarrkirche St. Martin in Tannheim, Baden Württemberg, Germany)

Lent, in Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.[1]

This practice was virtually universal in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation.[2] Some Protestant churches do not observe Lent, but most, such as Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Episcopalians, do.

Contents

Duration

Most followers of Western Catholicism observe Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday (midday, 40 days to Palm Sunday) and concluding at the Ninth Hour of Holy Thursday (44 days in the Catholic Church) or on Holy Saturday (46 days).[2][3]

One notable exception is the Archdiocese of Milan which follows the Ambrosian Rite and observes Lent starting exactly 6 weeks before Easter. The six Sundays in Lent are not counted among the forty days because each Sunday represents a "mini-Easter," a celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death.[1] When Lent is to continue until Holy Saturday, this leaves exactly forty days of fasting.

In those churches which follow the Byzantine tradition (e.g. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics), the forty days of Lent are calculated differently: the fast begins on Clean Monday two days before Ash Wednesday, Sundays are included in the count, so it ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. The days of Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are considered a distinct period of fasting. For more detailed information about the Eastern Christian practice of Lent, see the article Great Lent. Amongst Oriental Orthodox Christians, there are various local traditions regarding Lent. The Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches observe a total of fifty-five days for Lent. Joyous Saturday and the week preceding it are counted separately from the forty day fast in accordance with the Apostolic Constitutions giving an extra eight days. The first seven days of the fast are considered by some to be an optional time of preparation.[citation needed] Others attribute these seven days to the fast of Holofernes who asked the Syrian Christians to fast for him after they requested his assistance to repel the invading pagan Persians.

Other related fasting periods

The number forty has many Biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18); the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); God made it rain for forty days and forty nights in the days of Noah (Genesis 7:4); the Hebrew people wandered forty years traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33); Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh forty days in which to repent (Jonah 3:4).

Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2). Jesus overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and he began his ministry. Jesus further said that his disciples should fast "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them" (Matthew 9:15), a reference to his Passion. Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial.

It is the traditional belief that Jesus lay for forty hours in the tomb[4] which led to the forty hours of total fast that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church[5] (the biblical reference to 'three days in the tomb' is understood as spanning three days, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, rather than three 24 hour periods of time). One of the most important ceremonies at Easter was the baptism of the initiates on Easter Eve. The fast was initially undertaken by the catechumens to prepare them for the reception of this sacrament. Later, the period of fasting from Good Friday until Easter Day was extended to six days, to correspond with the six weeks of training, necessary to give the final instruction to those converts who were to be baptized.

Converts to Christianity followed a strict catechumenate or period of instruction and discipline prior to baptism. In Jerusalem near the close of the fourth century, classes were held throughout Lent for three hours each day. With the legalization of Christianity (by the Edict of Milan) and its later imposition as the state religion of the Roman Empire, its character was endangered by the great influx of new members. In response, the Lenten fast and practices of self-renunciation were required annually of all Christians, both to show solidarity with the catechumens, and for their own spiritual benefit. The less zealous converts were thus brought more securely into the Christian fold.

Traditionally, on Easter Sunday, Roman Catholics may cease their fasting and start again whatever they gave up for Lent, after they attend Mass on Easter Sunday.

Name

In Latin the term quadragesima (translation of the original Greek tessarakoste, the "fortieth day" before Easter) is used. This nomenclature is preserved in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages (for example, Spanish cuaresma, Portuguese quaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima, Croatian korizma, Irish Carghas, and Welsh C(a)rawys).

In the late Middle Ages, as sermons began to be given in the vernacular instead of Latin, the English word lent was adopted. This word initially simply meant spring (as in German language Lenz and Dutch lente) and derives from the Germanic root for long because in the spring the days visibly lengthen.[6]

Associated customs

There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.[7]

In many liturgical Christian denominations, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday form the Easter Triduum.[8] 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." It is a season of sorrowful reflection which is punctuated by breaks in the fast on Sundays.

In the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service, and Anglican Eucharist, 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. 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. It is also used in the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during Lent; it is replaced before the Gospel reading by a seasonal acclamation. In the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite omission of the Alleluia begins with Septuagesima.

The last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide. It begins on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal is called the First Sunday in Passiontide and in earlier editions Passion Sunday. All statues (and in England paintings as well) in the church were traditionally veiled in violet, and according to the rubrics should continue to be so. This was seen to be in accordance with the Gospel of that Sunday (John 8:46-59), in which Jesus “hid himself” from the people. The veils were removed at the singing of the Gloria during the Easter Vigil. Following Vatican II, and in the Reformed Kalendar of 1969, the name Passiontide was formally dropped, although the last two weeks are markedly different from the rest of the season. The tradition of veiling images is left to the decision of a country's conference of bishops.

In the Byzantine Rite, the Gloria (Great Doxology) continues to be used in its normal place in the Matins service, and the Alleluia appears all the more frequently, replacing "God is the Lord" at Matins.

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Pre-Lenten festivals

Lent personified at a Carnival celebration. Detail of 1559 painting "The Battle between Carnival and Lent" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pile of straw with a fir tree and a "witch" doll attached to it, for the traditional "Funken" bonfire on the First Sunday of lent in Herdwangen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
The "Funken" set ablaze

Although originally of pagan content[citation needed], the traditional carnival celebrations which precede Lent in many cultures have become associated with the season of fasting if only because they are a last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. The most famous pre-Lenten carnival in the World is celebrated in Rio de Janeiro; other famous Carnivals are held in Venice, Cologne and in New Orleans (where it is termed Mardi Gras and only celebrated on Shrove Tuesday).

Fasting and abstinence

Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while others will permit fish, others permit fish and fowl, others prohibit fruit and eggs, and still others eat only bread. In some places, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal each day, while others abstained from all food until 3 o'clock. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without vegetables or alcohol was eaten followed by a big fry with no eggs. Even now, the Orthodox Churches continue the practice of avoiding all animal products including fish, eggs, fowl and milk sourced from animals (e.g. goats and cows as opposed to the milk of soy beans and coconuts) for the entire fifty-five days of their Lent.

During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs and dairy products were generally forbidden. Thomas Aquinas argued that "they afford greater pleasure as food [than fish], and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust."[9]

However, dispensations for dairy products were given, frequently for a donation[citation needed], from which several churches are popularly believed to have been built, including the "Butter Tower" of the Rouen Cathedral. In Spain, the bull of the Holy Crusade (renewed periodically after 1492) allowed the consumption of dairy products[10] and eggs during Lent in exchange for a contribution to the conflict.

Giraldus Cambrensis in his Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales reports that "in Germany and the arctic regions," "great and religious persons," eat the tail of beavers as "fish" because of its superficial resemblance to a fish and their relative abundance.[11]

In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstinence from the above-mentioned food products is still commonly practiced, meaning only vegetarian meals are consumed during this time in many Eastern countries. Lenten practices (as well as various other liturgical practices) are more common in Protestant circles than they once were. In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditional to abstain from meat from mammals and fowl on Ash Wednesday and every Friday for the duration of Lent, although dairy products are still permitted. An alteration of this practice is found in the State of Louisiana, where Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat on Friday but allow themselves to consume any type of seafood; which is abundant in most parts of the state. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday it is customary to fast for the day, with no meat, eating only one full meal, and if necessary, two small meals also.[12]

Pursuant to Canon 1253, days of fasting and abstinence are set by the national Episcopal conference. On days of fasting, one eats only one full meal, but may eat two smaller meals as necessary to keep up one's strength. The two small meals together must sum to less than the one full meal. Parallel to the fasting laws are the laws of abstinence. These bind those over the age of fourteen. On days of abstinence, the person must not eat meat or poultry. According to canon law, all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday and several other days are days of abstinence, though in most countries, the strict requirements for abstinence have been limited by the bishops (in accordance with Canon 1253) to the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. On other abstinence days, the faithful are invited to perform some other act of penance. A custom that developed later was to also give up something a person “enjoyed” receiving or doing for the duration of Lent. Although it is not required or part of any rule, many Christians today will also choose to give up something during the Lenten period.

In some years, there have been exceptions to abstinence on Fridays during the Lenten Season. If Saint Patrick's Day (17 March) falls on a Friday during Lent, the local Bishop can dispense with the rules and Catholics can eat meat. This is especially true in the United States among areas with large Irish-American populations, who eat corned beef on St. Patrick's Day. Approximately one third of all Catholic dioceses in the United States grant such a dispensation.[13] The same is true for the feasts of St. Joseph and the Annunciation, which are always March 19th and March 25th respectively. If the feasts (March 19th or March 25th) fall on a Friday during Lent then the obligation to abstain is abrogated.[14]

Contemporary legislation is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini. He recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation, and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. He also allowed that fasting and abstinence might be substituted with prayer and works of charity.

Many modern Protestants consider the observation of Lent to be a choice, rather than an obligation. They may decide to give up a favorite food or drink (e.g. chocolate, alcohol) or activity (e.g., going to the movies, playing video games, etc.) for Lent, or they may instead take on a Lenten discipline such as devotions, volunteering for charity work, and so on. Roman Catholics may also observe Lent in this way in addition to the dietary restrictions outlined above, though observation is no longer mandatory under the threat of mortal sin. Many Christians who choose not to follow the dietary restrictions cite 1 Timothy 4:1-5 which warns of doctrines that "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth."

Liturgical year
Western
Eastern

When observing fasting or abstinence during Lent, regard must be paid to the fact that Sundays are Feast Days, so there is no fast or abstinence. The days from Ash Wednesday to the day before Easter Sunday, excluding the Sundays, are forty, corresponding to the number of days Christ spent in the wilderness.

Holy Days

There are several holy days within the season of Lent:

  • 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 His crucifixion and burial

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. After this Holy Thursday evening celebration, the consecrated hosts are taken from the altar solemnly to a place of reposition where the faithful are invited to worship the holy Body of Christ. On the next day the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3pm, unless a later time is chosen due to work schedules. This service consists of readings from the Scriptures especially John the Evangelist's account of the Passion of Jesus, followed by prayers, adoration of the cross of Jesus, and a communion service at which the hosts consecrated at the evening Mass of the day before are distributed. The Easter Vigil during the night between Holy Saturday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning starts with the blessing of a fire and a special candle and with readings from Scripture associated with baptism, then the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung, water is blessed, baptism and confirmation of adults may take place, and the people are invited to renew the promises of their own baptism, and finally Mass is celebrated in the usual way from the Preparation of the Gifts onwards.

Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. It is custom for some churches to hold sunrise services which include open air celebrations in some places.

In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and many Anglican churches, the priest's vestments are violet during the season of Lent. On the fourth Sunday in Lent, rose-coloured vestments may be worn in lieu of violet. In some Anglican churches, a type of unbleached linen or muslin known as Lenten array is used during the first three weeks of Lent, and crimson during Passiontide. On holy days, the colour proper to the day is worn.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "What is Lent and why does it last forty days?". The United Methodist Church. http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=2870. Retrieved 24 August 2007. 
  2. ^ a b "The Liturgical Year". The Anglican Catholic Church. http://www.anglicancatholic.org/dmas/litdescp.html. Retrieved 24 August 2007. 
  3. ^ Thurston, Herbert (1910), "Lent", The Catholic Encyclopedia, IX, New York: Robert Appleton Company, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm, retrieved 15 February 2008 
  4. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia - Lent See paragraph: Duration of the Fast
  5. ^ Lent & Beyond: Dr. Peter Toon—From Septuagesima to Quadragesima
  6. ^ Lent Online Etymology Dictionary, Retrieved 8 March 2009
  7. ^ Spirit Home: Lent—disciplines and practices
  8. ^ General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 19
  9. ^ Summa Theologica Q147a8
  10. ^ Implicaciones económicas del miedo religioso en dos instituciones del Antiguo Régimen: la Inquisición y la Bula de Cruzada, Alejandro Torres Gutiérrez, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Millennium:Fear and Religion.
  11. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1148/pg1148.html Baldwin's Itinerary Through Wales #2 by Giraldus Cambrensis
  12. ^ Colin B. Donovan, Fast and Abstinence Accessed 28 December 2007
  13. ^ Engber, Daniel (15 March 2006). "Thou Shalt Eat Corned Beef on Friday: Who Sets the Rules on Lent?". Slate. http://www.slate.com/id/2138120/. Retrieved 13 February 2010. 
  14. ^ Canon 1251 of the Code of Canon Law

External links


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Wiktionary

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also lent

Contents

English

Etymology

Related to German Lenz "springtime", which is derived from a word related to long, because of the longer days.

Pronunciation

Proper noun

Lent

  1. Period of penitence for Christians before Easter.

Translations


Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Contents

Origin of the word

The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times. This etymology, as we shall see, is of some little importance in explaining the early developments of the Easter fast.

Origin of the custom

Some of the Fathers as early as the fifth century supported the view that this forty days' fast was of Apostolic institution. For example, St. Leo (d. 461) exhorts his hearers to abstain that they may "fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the forty days" — ut apostolica institutio quadraginta dierum jejuniis impleatur (P.L., LIV, 633), and the historian Socrates (d. 433) and St. Jerome (d. 420) use similar language (P.G., LXVII, 633; P.L., XXII, 475).

But the best modern scholars are almost unanimous in rejecting this view, for in the existing remains of the first three centuries we find both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and also a gradual process of development in the matter of its duration. The passage of primary importance is one quoted by [[Eusebius of C�sarea (Catholic Encyclopedia)|Eusebius]] (Hist. Eccl., V, xxiv) from a letter of St. Irenaeus to Pope Victor in connection with the Easter controversy. There Irenaeus says that there is not only a controversy about the time of keeping Easter but also regarding the preliminary fast. "For", he continues, "some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast". He also urges that this variety of usage is of ancient date, which implies that there could have been no Apostolic tradition on the subject. Rufinus, who translated [[Eusebius of C�sarea (Catholic Encyclopedia)|Eusebius]] into Latin towards the close of the fourth century, seems so to have punctuated this passage as to make Irenaeus say that some people fasted for forty days. Formerly some difference of opinion existed as to the proper reading, but modern criticism (e.g., in the edition of Schwartz commissioned by the Berlin Academy) pronounces strongly in favor of the text translated above. We may then fairly conclude that Irenaeus about the year 190 knew nothing of any Easter fast of forty days.

The same inference must be drawn from the language of Tertullian only a few years later. When writing as a Montanist, he contrasts the very slender term of fasting observed by the Catholics (i.e., "the days on which the bridegroom was taken away", probably meaning the Friday and Saturday of Holy Week) with the longer but still restricted period of a fortnight which was kept by the Montanists. No doubt he was referring to fasting of a very strict kind (xerophagiæ — dry fasts), but there is no indication in his works, though he wrote an entire treatise "De Jejunio", and often touches upon the subject elsewhere, that he was acquainted with any period of forty days consecrated to more or less continuous fasting (see Tertullian, "De Jejun.", ii and xiv; cf. "de Orat.", xviii; etc.).

And there is the same silence observable in all the pre-Nicene Fathers, though many had occasion to mention such an Apostolic institution if it had existed. We may note for example that there is no mention of Lent in St. Dionysius of Alexandria (ed. Feltoe, 94 sqq.) or in the "Didascalia", which Funk attributes to about the year 250; yet both speak diffusely of the paschal fast.

Further, there seems much to suggest that the Church in the Apostolic Age designed to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ, not by an annual, but by a weekly celebration (see "the Month", April 1910, 337 sqq.). If this be so, the Sunday liturgy constituted the weekly memorial of the Resurrection, and the Friday fast that of the Death of Christ. Such a theory offers a natural explanation of the wide divergence which we find existing in the latter part of the second century regarding both the proper time for keeping Easter, and also the manner of the paschal fast. Christians were at one regarding the weekly observance of the Sunday and the Friday, which was primitive, but the annual Easter festival was something superimposed by a process of natural development, and it was largely influenced by the conditions locally existing in the different Churches of the East and West. Moreover, with the Easter festival there seems also to have established itself a preliminary fast, not as yet anywhere exceeding a week in duration, but very severe in character, which commemorated the Passion, or more generally, "the days on which the bridegroom was taken away".

Be this as it may, we find in the early years of the fourth century the first mention of the term tessarakoste. It occurs in the fifth canon of the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), where there is only question of the proper time for celebrating a synod, and it is conceivable that it may refer not to a period but to a definite festival, e.g., the Feast of the Ascension, or the Purification, which Ætheria calls quadragesimæ de Epiphania. But we have to remember that the older word, pentekoste (Pentecost) from meaning the fiftieth day, had come to denote the whole of the period (which we should call Paschal Time) between Easter Sunday and Whit-Sunday (cf. Tertullian, "De Idololatria", xiv, — "pentecosten implere non poterunt"). In any case it is certain from the "Festal Letters" of St. Athanasius that in 331 the saint enjoined upon his flock a period of forty days of fasting preliminary to, but not inclusive of, the stricter fast of Holy Week, and secondly that in 339 the same Father, after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance upon the people of Alexandria as one that was universally practiced, "to the end that while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock as the only people who do not fast but take our pleasure in those days". Although Funk formerly maintained that a Lent of forty days was not known in the West before the time of St. Ambrose, this is evidence which cannot be set aside.

Duration of the Fast

In determining this period of forty days the example of Moses, Elias, and Christ must have exercised a predominant influence, but it is also possible that the fact was borne in mind that Christ lay forty hours in the tomb. On the other hand just as Pentecost (the fifty days) was a period during which Christians were joyous and prayed standing, though they were not always engaged in such prayer, so the Quadragesima (the forty days) was originally a period marked by fasting, but not necessarily a period in which the faithful fasted every day. Still, this principle was differently understood in different localities, and great divergences of practice were the result. In Rome, in the fifth century, Lent lasted six weeks, but according to the historian Socrates there were only three weeks of actual fasting, exclusive even then of the Saturday and Sunday and if Duchesne's view may be trusted, these weeks were not continuous, but were the first, the fourth, and sixth of the series, being connected with the ordinations (Christian Worship, 243). Possibly, however, these three weeks had to do with the "scrutinies" preparatory to Baptism, for by some authorities (e.g., A.J. Maclean in his "Recent Discoveries") the duty of fasting along with the candidate for baptism is put forward as the chief influence at work in the development of the forty days. But throughout the Orient generally, with some few exceptions, the same arrangement prevailed as St. Athanasius's "Festal Letters" show us to have obtained in Alexandria, namely, the six weeks of Lent were only preparatory to a fast of exceptional severity maintained during Holy Week. This is enjoined by the "Apostolic Constitutions" (V, xiii), and presupposed by St. Chrysostom (Hom. xxx in Gen., I). But the number forty, having once established itself, produced other modifications. It seemed to many necessary that there should not only be fasting during the forty days but forty actual fasting days. Thus we find Ætheria in her "Peregrinatio" speaking of a Lent of eight weeks in all observed at Jerusalem, which, remembering that both the Saturday and Sunday of ordinary weeks were exempt, gives five times eight, i.e., forty days for fasting. On the other hand, in many localities people were content to observe no more than a six weeks' period, sometimes, as at Milan, fasting only five days in the week after the oriental fashion (Ambrose, "De Elia et Jejunio", 10). In the time of Gregory the Great (590-604) there were apparently at Rome six weeks of six days each, making thirty-six fast days in all, which St. Gregory, who is followed therein by many medieval writers, describes as the spiritual tithing of the year, thirty-six days being approximately the tenth part of three hundred and sixty-five. At a later date the wish to realize the exact number of forty days led to the practice of beginning Lent upon our present Ash Wednesday, but the Church of Milan, even to this day adheres to the more primitive arrangement, which still betrays itself in the Roman Missal when the priest in the Secret of the Mass on the first Sunday of Lent speaks of "sacrificium quadragesimalis initii", the sacrifice of the opening of Lent.

Nature of the fast

Neither was there originally less divergence regarding the nature of the fast. For example, the historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl., V, 22) tells of the practice of the fifth century: "Some abstain from every sort of creature that has life, while others of all the living creatures eat of fish only. Others eat birds as well as fish, because, according to the Mosaic account of the Creation, they too sprang from the water; others abstain from fruit covered by a hard shell and from eggs. Some eat dry bread only, others not even that; others again when they have fasted to the ninth hour (three o'clock) partake of various kinds of food". Amid this diversity some inclined to the extreme limits of rigor. Epiphanius, Palladius, and the author of the "Life of St. Melania the Younger" seem to contemplate a state of things in which ordinary Christians were expected to pass twenty-four hours or more without food of any kind, especially during Holy Week, while the more austere actually subsisted during part or the whole of Lent upon one or two meals a week (see Rampolla, "Vita di. S. Melania Giuniore", appendix xxv, p. 478). But the ordinary rule on fasting days was to take but one meal a day and that only in the evening, while meat and, in the early centuries, wine were entirely forbidden. During Holy Week, or at least on Good Friday it was common to enjoin the xerophagiæ, i.e., a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables.

There does not seem at the beginning to have been any prohibition of lacticinia, as the passage just quoted from Socrates would show. Moreover, at a somewhat later date, Bede tells us of Bishop Cedda, that during Lent he took only one meal a day consisting of "a little bread, a hen's egg, and a little milk mixed with water" (Hist. Eccl., III, xxiii), while Theodulphus of Orleans in the eighth century regarded abstinence from eggs, cheese, and fish as a mark of exceptional virtue. None the less St. Gregory writing to St. Augustine of England laid down the rule, "We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." This decision was afterwards enshrined in the "Corpus Juris", and must be regarded as the common law of the Church. Still exceptions were admitted, and dispensations to eat "lacticinia" were often granted upon condition of making a contribution to some pious work. These dispensations were known in Germany as Butterbriefe, and several churches are said to have been partly built by the proceeds of such exceptions. One of the steeples of Rouen cathedral was for this reason formerly known as the Butter Tower. This general prohibition of eggs and milk during Lent is perpetuated in the popular custom of blessing or making gifts of eggs at Easter, and in the English usage of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Relaxations of the Lenten Fast

From what has been said it will be clear that in the early Middle Ages Lent throughout the greater part of the Western Church consisted of forty weekdays, which were all fast days, and six Sundays. From the beginning to the end of that time all flesh meat, and also, for the most part, "lacticinia", were forbidden even on Sundays, while on all the fasting days only one meal was taken, which single meal was not permitted before evening. At a very early period, however (we find the first mention of it in Socrates), the practice began to be tolerated of breaking the fast at the hour of none, i.e., three o'clock. We learn in particular that Charlemagne, about the year 800, took his lenten repast at 2 p.m. This gradual anticipation of the hour of dinner was facilitated by the fact that the canonical hours of none, vespers, etc., represented rather periods than fixed points of time. The ninth hour, or none, was no doubt strictly three o'clock in the afternoon, but the Office of none might be recited as soon as sext, which, of course, corresponded to the sixth hour, or midday, was finished. Hence none in course of time came to be regarded as beginning at midday, and this point of view is perpetuated in our word noon which means midday and not three o'clock in the afternoon. Now the hour for breaking the fast during Lent was after Vespers (the evening service), but by a gradual process the recitation of Vespers was more and more anticipated, until the principle was at last officially recognized, as it is at present, that Vespers in lent may be said at midday. In this way, although the author of the "Micrologus" in the eleventh century still declared that those who took food before evening did not observe the lenten fast according to the canons (P.L., CLI, 1013), still, even at the close of the thirteenth century, certain theologians, for example the Franciscan Richard Middleton, who based his decision in part upon contemporary usage, pronounced that a man who took his dinner at midday did not break the lenten fast. Still more material was the relaxation afforded by the introduction of "collation". This seems to have begun in the ninth century, when the Council of Aix la Chapelle sanctioned the concession, even in monastic houses, of a draught of water or other beverage in the evening to quench the thirst of those who were exhausted by the manual labor of the day. From this small beginning a much larger indulgence was gradually evolved. The principle of parvitas materiae, i.e., that a small quantity of nourishment which was not taken directly as a meal did not break the fast, was adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, and in the course of centuries a recognized quantity of solid food, which according to received authorities must not exceed eight ounces, has come to be permitted after the midday repast. As this evening drink, when first tolerated in the ninth-century monasteries, was taken at the hour at which the "Collationes" (Conferences) of Abbot Cassian were being read aloud to the brethren, this slight indulgence came to be known as a "collation", and the name has continued since. Other mitigations of an even more substantial character have been introduced into lenten observance in the course of the last few centuries. To begin with, the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning. But, what more particularly regards Lent, successive indults have been granted by the Holy See allowing meat at the principal meal, first on Sundays, and then on two, three, four, and five weekdays, throughout nearly the whole of Lent. Quite recently, Maundy Thursday, upon which meat was hitherto always forbidden, has come to share in the same indulgence. In the United States, the Holy See grants faculties whereby working men and their families may use flesh meat once a day throughout the year, except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas. The only compensation imposed for all these mitigations is the prohibition during Lent against partaking of both fish and flesh at the same repast.

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Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|A cross is covered with a veil during Passiontide in Lent (Pfarrkirche St. Martin in Tannheim, Baden Württemberg, Germany).]]

Lent, in the Christian tradition, is the period of nearly five weeks before Easter.

Lent is a time in which Christians are supposed to be quiet and thoughtful, preparing themselves for Easter. They should pray a lot, give money to charities and give up some of the things they might otherwise do for pleasure. The period of Lent ends at Easter, which is a time of great celebration as the Christians think of how Jesus had died on the cross but then rose again from the dead.

Lent is traditionally supposed to be forty days long, because the Bible says that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, in preparation for his death and resurrection.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and finishes at the Ninth Hour of Holy Thursday (44 days in the Catholic Church) or on Holy Saturday (46 days) in the The Anglican Catholic Church.

Churches in the Byzantine tradition (e.g. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics) count the days of Lent differently. There are also different local traditions in the Oriental Orthodox church.

Lent is traditionally a time for fasting (not eating much). This tradition was useful because it was a time when food which had been kept for the winter had to be eaten up before it went bad. Many Roman Catholics do not eat meat other than fish on Fridays during Lent.

The word "lent" came from the Anglo-Saxon lencten meaning "Spring (season)". The Dutch word for spring is "Lente" and the Old German word is "Lenz".

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