On February 17 (Ash Wednesday) we enter the Lenten Season. Lent is a somber time, during which we reflect and prepare ourselves for the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
Lent is the fourth of the six seasons. Its first mention was in AD 325 in the Canons of Nicaea. These Canons were the outcome of a council, which was convened by Emperor Constantine to unify the Churches under his control. Many of the present practices of the Church were defined at this Council.
The Lenten Season is the period of preparation for Easter by remembering that Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we may have eternal life. During this forty-day time period we prepare ourselves by special acts of self-discipline and self-denial (fasting, prayer and penitence). In early time only one meal a day was eaten. However, by the 15th century many people were breaking their daily fast by noon.
The fast is not broken until Vespers are said. Many people today say a simple prayer before breaking fast. In some churches, fasting during Lent is required only on the first day (Ash Wednesday) and on Good Friday. In any case, the period of fasting ends at noon of Holy Saturday (the day before Easter).
The name Ash Wednesday comes from the tradition of marking a cross, using ashes, on the foreheads of worshipers. The ashes come from the left over palm leaves from the preceding Palm Sunday.
The purpose of Lent is not self-punishment, but of self-betterment through prayer, study and sacrifice, thus strengthening our religious foundation.
In keeping with the somber nature of Lent, purple vestments are used and ‘Alleluia’ is not used.
The last week of Lent is called Holy Week. This is the time commemorating the Passion of Christ — those few days leading up to the Crucifixion. Each day has its rite. In the early Church (from the 4th century), Christians reenacted the scenes of Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, the Paschal Vigil and Easter are the ceremonies in Holy Week.
During the 18th century, Lent fell into comparative disuse. The Tractarians revived it in the 19th century. These were a group of Church workers who published tracts written to disseminate Church principles.
- Length of Season: Six Weeks.
- Date of Season: Variable. Starts 40 days before Easter.
- Mood of Season: Somber
- Color of Season: Purple
- Symbol of Season: Crown of Thorns.