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What is Lent?

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Published: 11 Feb 2013      

The other day I was sat typing away at my PC, when my daughter’s friend said, “what are you writing?” I was not sure what to say. I was indeed putting together the information needed to write an article about Shrove Tuesday, but due to political correctness and not wishing to offend anyone, I was a little stumped. 


Our children are taught many things at school, one of which is RE (religious education). What they are taught now and what I was taught at school is so very different. For myself I am not really very religious, but I do respect others’ beliefs and I do love history. 


I explained to the girl, that I would need her parent’s permission to explain what I was writing about. So she quickly got out her phone and rang her dad. She told him what was happening and she gave the phone to me. After a quick chat and a laugh about political correctness we came to the conclusion that, it was not a problem, I could explain what I was doing.


After I explained, she said “oh, not heard about that before.” I am not even going to get on my soap box about my thoughts on that remark. Apart from the one thing I have done in life is taught my daughter the differences of religions and their histories, so that she can make up her own mind what to think.


So what was I writing?


Shrove Tuesday, was due around again and we were doing a recipe and a little bit about the event and what was behind it. I was not going to go into the subject too much, as most adults know as we were taught at school. Sorry had to get that jibe in. 


After I explained all to her, I thought, if you’re going to do Tuesday you had better do Wednesday and then Lent too. So below is the information the girls helped me find. Yes I already new it, but a great way to learn is to go on a hunt for yourself.


What is Lent?

  • Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. It begins on Ash Wednesday.
  • Lent is a time of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. 
  • By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. 
  • Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.
  • Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus's crucifixion by Rome. This is believed to have taken place in Roman occupied Jerusalem.
  • The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century use it as a time for prayer and penance. 
  • Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. 
  • It is more common these days for believers to surrender a particular vice such as favourite foods or smoking. Whatever the sacrifice it is a reflection of Jesus's deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self-discipline.

Why 40 days?

  • 40 is a significant number in Jewish-Christian scripture.
  • In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain.
  • The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God.
  • Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.
  • Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
  • Most Christians regard Jesus' time in the wilderness as the key event for the duration of Lent.

Did you know........

The 40 days of fasting and abstinence during Lent does not include Sundays.  Yes if you count all the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, there are actually over 40.  So even good dedicated Christians can have a respite from their abstinence on Sundays during Lent - if they really must.  But as they say - everything in moderation.


Why is it called Lent? 

Lent is an old English word meaning 'lengthen'. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer.

The colour purple:

  • Purple is the symbolic colour used in some churches throughout Lent, for drapes and altar frontals.
  • Purple is used for two reasons: firstly because it is associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and secondly because purple is the colour associated with royalty, and celebrates Christ's resurrection and sovereignty.

East and West

  • Both the eastern and western churches observe Lent but they count the 40 days differently.
  • The western church excludes Sundays (which is celebrated as the day of Christ's resurrection) whereas the eastern church includes them.
  • The churches also start Lent on different days.
  • Western churches start Lent on the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day (called Ash Wednesday).
  • Eastern churches start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter. 
  • Eastern churches call this period the 'Great Lent'.
  • The last week of Lent is called Holy Week.



So to conclude, the girls learnt a lot about the Christian church and got themselves very hungry. So what could we do but try out the pancake recipe.