Lent: History, Length and End Date

Just curious: Does Lent have some significance to recalling seom biblical event, or is it just to demonstrate discipline? What is the length of Lent? And, is there any special name for the day marking the end of Lent? And if not, why isn’t there some massive party to celebrate the end of Lent - equivalent to Mardi Gras??? - Jinx

Lent is a 40 day period ending on Easter. My understanding is that the 40 days corresponds to the period of fasting by Jesus just prior to his beginning his public ministry.

Well, yes and no.

Yes, it’s 40 days prior to Easter.

No, it’s not that easy. (For example, the Sundays are technically not a part of lent).

There have been several threads on the subject before, so I suggest you have a look at:
Lent: Do You Have To Give Up Things on Sundays?, or play around with the search function.

The Catholic Encyclopedia is also a very usefull resource.

Well, Easter is considered the most important day of the year for Christians, so you could consider that the Mardis Gras equivalent. If you were looking for drunken debauchery, there’s a Polish tradition called Dingus Day, celebrated the Monday after Easter. Traditionally, it was a celebration for the newly baptized and converted. Contemporarily, it is a celebration to pick up where you left off on Mardis Gras, and consume a huge amount of sausage and hard-boiled eggs (and beer, can’t forget the beer).

South Bend, Indiana and Buffalo, New York are two cities that have traditionally made a solid effort to recognize Dingus Day. It’s also the unofficial start of the campaign season in these cities.

To complicate matters, the Orthodox Church has a “pre-Lent” of at least one week. “Meatfare Sunday” is the Sunday before the first Sunday of Lent. For the week after this, the Orthodox are to abstain from the flesh of any bony creature. “Cheesefare Sunday” is the Sunday before the beginning of the Lenten fast. The next Monday, the full rules apply. In Orthodoxy, the full rules are:

No animal products at all
No olive oil
No wine.

The “no olive oil” rule is sometimes extended to mean "no oils that have been separated from their source–so walnuts are okay but walnut oil wouldn’t be. “No wine” is sometimes extended to mean “no alcohol”.

Now, these rules only apply Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, shellfish, oil, and wine are permitted. In Orthodoxy, the period is seven weeks, not counting the week after Cheesefare Sunday.

As for when it ends, among the Orthodox, it ends when the Priest sings “Christ is Risen” at the beginning of the Paschal Liturgy–supposed to be on midnight, the beginning of Easter. This is also the beginning of the Paschal Liturgy, which can go for a while.

Both. Lent is a time to practice religious disciplines. Fasting is the most prominent discipline, but there are also almsgiving (giving to the poor) and prayer. As a discipline (and not a punishment), it’s meant to strengthen one’s will power and resolve to do good and be holy. If you can say no to your appetite, you can say no to temptation.

It’s biblical basis comes from the gospels. When asked why his disciples didn’t fast (like the the Pharisees and disciples of John the Baptist fasted), Jesus used the metaphor that his disciples had the bridegroom with them, and therefore, should party. But the time would come, Jesus added, when the bridegroom would be taken away (i.e., his death), and then they would fast [Matthew 9:14-15].

Jesus taught his disciples to fast, almsgive, and pray with humility. So, it’s presumed that Christians should do this at some time in their lives [Matthew 6:1-18]. Lent is the designated time for the community to do these disciplines together, as a communal preparation for Easter.

Well, there’s the 40 days of the flood [Genesis 7:4]; the 40 years of the Isrealites wandering in the desert [Exodus 16:35]; the 40 days of Moses on the mountain while receiving the Law of the Covenant [Exodus 24:18]; and, the 40 days of Jesus in the desert after his baptism and before beginning his public ministry (during which, he was tempted by Satan) [Matthew 4:2].

So, after a colorful history, the convention is that Lent is the 40 days before Easter. The Sundays don’t count because they’re days of celebrating the resurrection, and thus, are not supposed to be penitential days. Ash Wednesday is the first day and Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) is the last day. [Technical note: In Roman Catholic circles, Holy Thursday through Holy Saturday has now been elevated to its own special three-day season called the Triduum, which means they no longer count toward Lent, so, Lent is 40-ish days.]

As mentioned, Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent. Easter is the day after Lent, and that is a rather special celebration. There is a tradition (mostly ethnic) of blessing meats and other rich foods on Holy Saturday in preparation for the Easter feast. Usually, Christians have a very special Sunday service and then a family meal equalling Thanksgiving.

And if Easter were to be celebrated equivalent to Mardi Gras, then break out the golden calf and smite 'em all to hell [Exodus 32].


How come no one ever asks about Advent? [Except this once.]

Popup! Hey, that’s a new one for me! That sounds like a great resource of a website!

Thanks to all for responding! I could :smack: myself for not realizing Easter marks the end of Lent. But, one more question…is Lent and Easter only for the Catholics??? Or, do some recognize Easter without observing Lent? :dubious:

  • Jinx

All Christians celebrate Easter - it marks one of the most basic beliefs in Christianity, that Christ rose from the dead.

Not all Christians do anything about Lent. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians all observe Lent. Some Protestants do, some don’t.

Just realize that the online Catholic Encyclopedia is the copyright-expired 1917 version. So, it is a good resource for the history of Lenten practices in the RC Church up until 1917, but a horrible resource for current practices.

The Orthodox certainly have a Lenten practice. And the more ‘catholic’ or ‘liturgical’ or ‘mainline’ the Protestant denomination, the more likely they, too, will celebrate Lent in some fashion (e.g., Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc…).

Lenten practices were once thought to be ‘that weird Catholic stuff’ by many Protestants, especially the fundamentalists. But, if you notice all the scriptural quotes I quoted at you, it becomes clear that the Catholic practices are not made-up Catholic stuff, but has gospel origins. Now that the inter-Christian holy wars are over, the Protestant churches are adapting some Catholic practices like Lent (as well as the RC Church has adapted what were considered strictly Protestant type of practices).

It’s fun to look at the NY Times church directory around Ash Wednesday and see all the Protestant churches advertising their Ash Wednesday services with ‘imposition of ashes.’ It’s not an exclusively Catholic thing anymore.

Oh, and another thing that helps unify Christian practices is the common Lectionary (cycle of readings on Sundays for the year). The Common Lectionary has decidedly Lenten-themed readings for Lent, which has sort of nudged Protestants into getting into a Lenten season.


If ashes fell down my shirt, would I have lent in my belly button?

While 99.9% of Christians believe that Jesus rose from the grave, not all of those celebrate Easter. AFAIK, early Christians didn’t keep Easter; they kept a modified Passover, i.e. the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20-34). There are also Christians today who do likewise.

I’m not sure that I would say that a common 40-day theme and a comment from Jesus mean that Lent wasn’t made up by the Catholic church. The Catholic Information Network specifically states that Lent was created by the Catholic church, and is not from the Bible. The 40-day period wasn’t even specified until 339 and Lent was defintely not an apostolic institution. (There are some who claim that Lent, like Easter and Christmas, was created to take the place of a pagan tradition.)

I find this quote interesting:

from Facts, Myths & Maybes (Everything You Think You Know About Catholicism But Perhaps Don’t), by John Deedy

I’m not saying that the practices of Lent, as is exists today, was dictacted exactly by Jesus as written in the gospels. I said the practices have gospel origins.

Jesus very specifically indicated that, after his death, his disciples would fast. He very specifically taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, how his disciples should go about their disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. And so, fasting is very definitely gospel-derived.

And I specifically mentioned that after a colorful history Lent was set by the Church as 40 days as a convention. I did not claim that this comes from the gospels.

Well, those some are ignorant. Celebrating the anniversary of Jesus’ birth and death/resurrection were natural developments within Christianity. Just because the way those events were celebrated appropriated some Pagan traditions doesn’t mean that Christmas and Easter were simply invented to replace Pagan celebrations, nor does it mean that Christmas and Easter are solely derivatives of Pagan celebrations.


“Did he say, ‘blessed are the cheese makers’?”

“I believe he’s referring to the dairy industry as a whole.”