Lent is a time of preparation for the Easter festival which celebrates the resurrection of Christ, based on fasting, prayer and sharing. This year, it is celebrated from Wednesday February 14 to Thursday March 28, 2024. Origins, dates, meanings, associated practices… you will know everything about this important time in the life of Christians.
What are the origins of Lent?
Until the 4th century, the day of preparation for the Easter festival varied. It was the Council of Nicaea, in 325, which made Lent a specific liturgical season lasting 40 days, devoted in particular to the teaching of catechumens.
Why does Lent last 40 days?
Lent comes from Latin quadragesimawhich means “fortieth”.
In the Bible, “40” is the number of expectation: Jesus lived 40 days in the desert after his baptism; the Jewish people wandered for 40 years in the desert before entering the Holy Land; Moses fasted 40 days before receiving the tablets of the Law; the Flood lasted 40 days, before Noah opened the window of the Ark…
This duration clearly echoes these different biblical episodes. It is the time of trial and spiritual combat. The time it takes to approach God, convert and appeal to his mercy. But the main biblical reference is that of the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Mt 4). After fasting and praying for 40 days, Jesus sees the devil appear. The latter offers to relieve his hunger by transforming the stones into bread. Jesus refuses, because he longs for more spiritual food: the word of God.
The season of Lent is marked by fasting and penance. Thus, at the beginning of the 6th century, believing that one could not fast on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of Christ, part of the previous week was added. This is how Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday, thus extending over the 46 days before Easter. But it lasts 40 days since the six Sundays are not considered part of this period of penance.
What are the start and end dates of Lent?
This year, Lent begins on February 14, 2024 with Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday). It finishes on March 28, Holy Thursday. This day commemorating the Lord’s Supper also corresponds to the beginning of the Easter triduum: the three days (Good Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) during which the Church celebrates the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
Holy Week begins on March 24, 2024 with Palm Sunday. During this highlight, Christians relive the last days of Jesus: his entry into Jerusalem, his last meal, his passion and his death. It ends with the Easter Vigil, on the evening of Holy Saturday, March 30, 2024.
Lent therefore designates this preparatory period for the commemoration of the passion of Christ but also of his resurrection, at Easter, a feast celebrated this year on Sunday March 31.
What are the practices associated with Lent?
Fasting is one of the most common practices. It involves abstaining from certain foods, such as meat, eggs, dairy, fatty foods and alcohol. Some also choose to give up harmful habits or behaviors in order to purify themselves spiritually and thus draw closer to God.
Although marked by fasting and abstinence, this liturgical time must nevertheless see prayer placed at the heart of the spiritual path. Throughout Lent, readings make us meditate on the history of the Hebrew people (origins, Moses, the prophets, etc.). As for the Gospels of each Sunday, they introduce the faithful to the face of Christ.
Finally, Lent also allows us to experience sharing and charity in a special way: Christians make donations to charitable associations and to the most disadvantaged. Good Friday is thus associated with the “Bol de riz” operation in schools and certain parishes. On this occasion, many believers eat a single bowl of rice and the difference between the price of a meal and the cost of this bowl is donated to a charity..
All these practices allow believers to prepare their hearts and minds to follow Christ during his journey of the cross and during his resurrection.
What to eat during Lent?
During Lent, food should be frugal. We favor foods of plant origin without going overboard. So, for the evening meal, you can eat cereals and vegetables but also legumes rich in protein (lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc.). Remember to hydrate well throughout the day and focus on your spiritual experience. If you’re hungry, eat some dried fruits (raisins, almonds, cashews, etc.).
In an interview for Pilgrim, Jean-Christophe Normand, permanent deacon of the diocese of Nantes, author of the book The day the world will fast (Ed. Salvator) detailed “Christ invites us to an interior fast, discreet and joyful. It is not a question of living it in a logic of struggle against oneself but as a reunion with the Father, in order to enter into a more fruitful and confident relationship with him. (Read the interview here).
Are there differences between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Lent?
Fasting is a practice shared by major religions. But during Lent, not all Christians fast in the same way.
From the Renaissance, the Protestant schism, followed by the relative secularization of Western society and the relaxation of the instructions given to Christians made practices more diverse. Among Catholics, fasting from food can be replaced by deprivation of material dependence.
Protestants do not recommend this practice, because they refuse the idea of penance, according to which they could draw closer to God by fasting.
Among the Orthodox, however, fasting is an important element in what is called Great Lent, which begins on “Pure Monday” (this year it will be Monday March 18, 2024). Its practice must be supervised and the Orthodox faithful are invited to fast not of their own will but under the direction of a spiritual father.