Nine things you didn't know about the season of Lent
Jennifer Lee Preyss
March 3, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 3, 2011 at 9:04 p.m.
Wednesday marks the Western Christian tradition of the season of Lent, a 46-day period of prayer, sacrifice and reflection that culminates with Easter Sunday. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 9, the season of Lent typically includes various forms of fasting and repentance, ending on Holy Saturday, April 23. Lenten observances are maintained until Easter Sunday vigils, or celebration services honoring the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Here are nine things you didn't know about the Lenten season.
1. The 46 days of Lent are observed to represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before he began his ministry. It was there, Jesus fasted, prayed and endured Satanic temptation. Lent is traditionally 40 days long, though various Christian denominations calculate the days differently. The six Sundays during Lent are not counted. It is also believed that Jesus spent 40 hours in the tomb, spanning from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, before He resurrected.
2. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, where Christians mark their foreheads with ashes as a public sign of repentance. Ashes are gathered from burned palms used from the previous year's Palm Sunday. Ashes are mixed with sacred oils to make a paste, and ministers and church laymen leading the Ash Wednesday service make the sign of the cross with the paste on the foreheads of the faithful. In Biblical times, ashes represented mourning and sadness for sin.
3. During the Lenten season, three practices are observed: prayer, fasting (both food and festivities) and community service. In modern times, Lent has become associated with sacrificing a vice (such as television, or computer games) for 46 days and donating money to charitable causes.
4. During the Middle Ages, meat and dairy products were forbidden during Lent because they were said to be more tempting than other types of nourishing foods. Fish and fruit were permitted in some regions, while in others it was restricted. In 1400s Spain, the bull of the Holy Crusades lifted restrictions of dairy products and eggs during Lent in exchange for a contribution to the conflict.
5. Today, Roman Catholics abstain from meat from mammals and fowl on Ash Wednesday, and the Fridays included in the season of Lent. Dairy products are still permitted. Louisianan Roman Catholics abstain from non seafood meat on Friday. Observers of Lent customarily fast from food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, either with no meat, eating only one full meal, or two small meals.
6. Lent was universally practiced in Christendom until Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Catholics traditionally observe Lent, but some Protestants elect not to observe the season. Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglican Churches still practice Lent.
7. The last two weeks of Lent are called Passiontide, beginning on Passion Sunday and ending on Holy Saturday. In the Roman Catholic Church, holy images and crucifixes are veiled with violet colored sheets until the end of Good Friday celebrations.
8. The Bible does not specifically require the practice of Lent, though is founded on Christian principles. Lent is a custom dating as far back to the first century, though there is historical evidence of widespread fasting before Easter practiced in the second century.
9. Pre-Lenten festivals, stemming from Pagan roots, are typically observed before Ash Wednesday. Worldwide festivals include Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Maslenitsa, Pancake Day, Swabian-Alemannic-Fastnacht, and Carnival. These are typically the last opportunities for food, drink and celebration before Lent begins.