9 Things You Need to Know About Lent

‘In our Lenten journey towards Easter, let us remember the One who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,’ Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes at the Basilican of Santa Sabina on February 14, 2018.
Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes at the Basilican of Santa Sabina on February 14, 2018. (photo: Courtesy photo / Vatican Media)

The season of Lent is just around the corner. Here are nine things you need to know about it ...


1. What is Lent?

 According to the Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar:

 27. Lent [is a liturgical season that] is ordered to preparing for the celebration of Easter, since the lenten liturgy prepares for celebration of the paschal mystery both catechumens, by the various stages of Christian initiation, and the faithful, who recall their own Baptism and do penance.

 2. Where Does the Word "Lent" Come From?

 The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

 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.


3. When does Lent begin and end?

 The Universal Norms state:

 28. The forty days of lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive.

 This mean that Lent begins at 12:01 a.m. on Ash Wednesday and runs to just before the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday. As soon as the Mass of the Lord's Supper starts, it's a new liturgical season: Triduum.

 In 2022, Lent starts on March 2, Ash Wednesday and ends as soon as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper starts on Thursday, April 14.


4. Is Lent Exactly 40 Days Long as Currently Celebrated?

 No, it's actually a little longer than 40 days. The number is approximative, for spiritual purposes.

 More info on the precise number of days here.


5. Are the Sundays in Lent Part of Lent?

Yes. See question 1 for the duration of Lent. It runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday. No exceptions are made for Sundays.


 30. The Sundays of this time of year are called the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent [emphasis added]. The Sixth Sunday, on which Holy Week begins, is called, "Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord."


6. Why is the Number 40 Significant?

 Pope Benedict explained this way:

 Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry” (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter [Message for Lent 2009].


7. What Are the Rules for Fasting During Lent?

 Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting. The law of fast binds those who are from 18 to 59 years old, unless they are excused for a sufficient reason (e.g., a medical condition that requires more frequent food, etc.).

 According to the Church’s official rules (as opposed to someone’s personal summary of them):

 The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom [Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, Norms, III:2].

The system of mitigated fasting that is required by law thus allows for "one full meal" and "some food" in the morning and evening. The Church's official document governing the practice of fasting does not encourage scrupulous calculations about how much the two instances of "some food" add up to, though obviously each individually is less than a full meal, since only one of those is allowed.

 More on the discipline of fasting here.


8. What Are the Rules for Abstinence in Lent?

Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence (as well as Good Friday). An exception is if a solemnity falls on a Friday.

The law of abstinence binds those who are 14 years old or older.

 According to the Church's official rules:

 The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat [Paenitemini, Norms III:1].

 More on the discipline of abstinence here.


9. Do you Have to Give Up Something for Lent? If You Do, Can You Have it on Sundays?

The traditional custom of giving up something for Lent is voluntary. Consequently, if you give something up, you set the parameters. If you choose to allow yourself to have it on Sundays as to promote joy on this holy day, that is up to you.

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