Lent

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Lent

[Old Eng. lencten,=spring], Latin Quadragesima (meaning 40; thus the 40 days of Lent). In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of EasterEaster
[A.S. Eastre, name of a spring goddess], chief Christian feast, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. In the West, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon next after the vernal equinox (see calendar); thus, it falls
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. Observance of Lent is as old as the 4th cent. In Eastern churches it is reckoned as the six weeks before Palm Sunday. In the West the penitential season begins liturgically with Septuagesima, the ninth Sunday before Easter; the next Sundays are Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. Lent begins on Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday,
in the Western Church, the first day of Lent, being the seventh Wednesday before Easter. On this day ashes are placed on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them of death, of the sorrow they should feel for their sins, and of the necessity of changing their
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, the 40th weekday before Easter. Of the Sundays in Lent the fifth is Passion Sunday and the last is Palm Sunday. The week preceding Easter is Holy WeekHoly Week,
week before Easter. Its chief days are named Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. In Christian life it is a week of devout observance, commemorating the Passion and Jesus' death on the cross. The liturgies have special features and services, e.
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. Lent ends at midnight Holy Saturday. See Shrove TuesdayShrove Tuesday,
day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). In the Latin countries it is the last day of the carnival, called by the French Mardi Gras.
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. From the 5th to 9th cent. strict fasting was required; only one meal was allowed per day, and meat and fish (and sometimes eggs and dairy) were forbidden. During and since the 9th cent. fasting restrictions were gradually loosened. By the 20th cent. meat was allowed, except on Fridays. Pope Paul VI began (1966) a trend toward penitential works (such as acts of charity) in conjunction with Lent. The Christian observance of Lent may have a parallel in the fasting practiced in Greco-Roman mystery religions, in which it was considered an aid to enlightenment and often preceeded prophecy. Lent may also have a parallel in the Jewish Omer, the interval between PassoverPassover,
in Judaism, one of the most important and elaborate of religious festivals. Its celebration begins on the evening of the 14th of Nisan (first month of the religious calendar, corresponding to March–April) and lasts seven days in Israel, eight days in the Diaspora
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 and ShavuotShavuot
[Heb.,=weeks], Jewish feast celebrated on the 6th of the month of Sivan (usually some time in May) in Israel and on the sixth and seventh days in the Diaspora. Originally an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the winter grain harvest (which began at Passover),
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 that has become a time of semimourning and sadness. During the weeks of the Omer period, Jews in some communities refrain from wearing new clothes and there are no marriages or other public festivities.

Lent

Great Lent

Many Christians observe an approximately forty-day period of preparation for Easter known as Lent. The call to repentance, that is, to a change of heart and mind that inspires one to live out God's teachings, echoes through this season of the church year. In response, Christians who observe Lent seek spiritual renewal through a variety of activities, including prayer and meditation, fasting, study, selfexamination, and charitable works. The liturgical color for Lent is purple, which signifies humility and repentance.

For Western Christians, that is, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, forty-six days before Easter, and continues through Holy Saturday.

For Orthodox and other Eastern Christians, Lent begins on the evening of the seventh Sunday before Easter (see also Forgiveness Sunday; Clean Monday). Orthodoxy is one of the three main branches of the Christian faith. Orthodox Christianity developed in eastern Europe and the countries surrounding the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. Orthodox Christians follow a different church calendar than that commonly adhered to by Roman Catholics and Protestants (see also Easter, Date of).

Origins

Scholars agree that Lent came into being by the fourth century, but have yet to reach a consensus on its roots. Some of them argue that Lent grew out of what was originally a short fast in preparation for Easter. This fast may also have commemorated the sad events of Good Friday, the day on which Jesus was crucified, and Holy Saturday, the day on which he lay dead in the tomb. Fragments of the writings of early Christian leaders confirm the existence of these short fasts. Writing about Easter preparations in the year 190 A.D. a Christian leader named Irenaeus declared that "some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast." Not long afterward the Christian writer Tertullian compared the forty-hour fast taking place on Good Friday and Holy Saturday unfavorably with the longer fast observed by the Christian sect to which he belonged. Dionysius the Great, bishop of Alexandria (d. 264) recorded the fact that in his diocese some Christians did not observe a fast, and yet others fasted two, three, four, or six days in advance of Easter.

Many scholars interpret these early fasts as the beginnings of Holy Week, but do not believe that these pre-Easter observances expanded into the season we now call Lent. Instead they argue that early Christian customs surrounding baptism formed the backbone of the Lenten season.

The New Testament gives few clues as to the nature of the very first Christian baptisms, but seems to suggest that as soon as interested newcomers accepted the gospel of Christ they were baptized (Acts 8:35-39, 16:30-33). By the second century, however, documents produced by Christian writers tell of a period of preparation for baptism that included prayer, fasting, and religious instruction. Historical evidence shows that early Christian communities practiced baptism at different times of the year. By the third century, a decided preference to baptize at Easter emerged in a number of these scattered communities. By the fourth century, especially after the Council of Nicaea, an important meeting of early Christian leaders that took place in 325 A.D., Easter baptism became standard practice. This meant that the period of prayer, fasting, and religious instruction in preparation for baptism took place in the weeks preceding Easter.

Some scholars reason that as time went on people began to associate the devotions practiced by the baptismal candidates, or catechumens, with a preparation for Easter itself. This process may have been aided by the fact that baptizers and other community leaders were expected to set a good example by fasting along with the catechumens. In addition, beginning in the fourth century Christian leaders began to draw stronger parallels in their writings and teachings between baptism and the death and resurrection of Christ commemorated at Easter time. Drawing on images from Christian scripture they began to interpret baptism as a form of spiritual death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11, Colossians 2:12). The closer the connection forged between baptism and Easter, the more logical it became for alreadybaptized Christians to prepare for Easter in much the same way that catechumens prepared for baptism.

Scholars still debate how Lent came to last forty days. One theory traces the origins of the forty-day fast to the early Christian community of Alexandria, Egypt. There, and possibly in other Christian communities, people practiced a forty-day fast following the feast of Epiphany, which falls on January 6. Among Eastern Christians, Epiphany commemorates Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan. According to the Bible, Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert following his baptism. After returning from the desert he launched his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). The early Alexandrian Christians commemorated Jesus' ordeal with a forty-day fast beginning on the day after Epiphany. Catechumens were baptized at the end of this fast.

Some scholars believe that the forty-day fast practiced by the Alexandrian community may have inspired Christian leaders from other communities to adopt a forty-day fast as a preparation for baptism. Nevertheless, Christian leaders outside the Alexandrian community shifted the fast to the forty days preceding Easter, thereby upholding an emerging preference for Easter baptism. In fact, the forty-day Lenten fast preceding Easter became commonplace by the fourth century. After that time Christian leaders drew more frequent parallels between the goals and meaning of the Lenten fast and Jesus'fast in the desert, as well as the forty-day trials endured by other important biblical figures, including Noah, Moses, and Elijah (Genesis 7:17, Exodus 34:28, 1 Kings 19:8).

Words for Lent

The first word used to describe this new season of the Christian year was the Greek word tessarakoste, meaning "fortieth." Christian leaders in western Europe adopted its Latin equivalent, quadragesima. In western Europe, the word quadragesima soon attached itself to the sixth Sunday before Easter, approximately the fortieth day before Easter, when western European Christians began the Lenten fast (see also Pre-Lent). This day became known as Quadragesima Sunday. The word for Lent in many European languages evolved from this old, Latin root word. For example, the Spanish word for Lent is cuaresma, the Italian quaresima, and the French carême. The English word "Lent" traces its roots back to another word altogether. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon term lencten, meaning "springtime." The word lencten itself may have come from an old Germanic root word meaning "long," a reference to the fact that the days lengthen in the spring.

Lent in the Early Middle Ages

Nearly as soon as the new Lenten season took shape, it began to change. By the fifth and sixth centuries, the rise in the number of infant baptisms diminished the importance of Lent as a season of study, prayer, and fasting in preparation for adult initiation into the Christian faith. In addition, the sheer number of new baptisms wore away at the custom of the Easter or Pentecost baptismal ceremony presided over by the bishop. In this way the strong links once forged between Easter and baptism slowly began to dissolve. Instead, the devotions once practiced by aspiring Christians in preparation for baptism came to be seen as preparations that all Christians should make for Easter. One of the most important of these devotional practices was fasting. In the early days Christian communities showed little concern for the exact number of fast days contained in the six-week Lenten season. As fasting became a more important component of Lenten devotions, however, critics began to charge that beginning the fast on Quadragesima Sunday shortchanged the Lenten season. Even though Quadragesima Sunday falls forty-two days before Easter, Sundays did not count as true days of fast and penitence since they commemorate the resurrection of Christ. This left the season of Lent with only thirty-six days. Sometime during the seventh and eighth centuries Christian leaders across western Europe started to add four more days to the fast. This meant that Western Christians began Lent on the Wednesday following the seventh Sunday before Easter, a day which became known as Ash Wednesday.

In the early Middle Ages Lent increasingly came to be viewed as a season of repentance. The medieval view of repentance emphasized the admission of sin, the expression of sorrow, and the acceptance of punishment. Scholars speculate that during the early medieval era Lent served as a time during which those Christians who admitted to serious wrongdoing were publicly disciplined and reincorporated into the community. On the first day of Lent they confessed their sins before the entire congregation and expressed grief for their failings. Afterwards the priest sprinkled their heads with ashes and gave them a garment made of sackcloth, a rough kind of fabric, to wear. Thus attired they departed to complete the penance assigned to them. These penances might include prayer, charitable works, and manual labor. They might also include physical hardships, like sleeping on the ground and going barefoot throughout Lent. Penitents were also forbidden to cut their hair, bathe, and speak with others during Lent. For this reason they often served out this time in an isolated place, like a monastery. They returned to church again on Maundy Thursday to participate in a ceremony of reconciliation and to take the Eucharist again for the first time since the start of Lent. Because a person's spiritual errors were often thought to stain his or her relatives, entire families might undergo this process of atonement together (see also Redemption).

Some writers believe that the forty-day period of penance and isolation enforced on Lenten penitents may have indirectly inspired the medical practice called "quarantine," a period of mandatory isolation for the purposes of containing disease. Medical quarantines were invented in fourteenth-century Venice. Ships suspected of harboring disease were isolated for forty days before they were permitted to dock and unload. This practice was called quarantina, from the Italian word for forty, quaranta. The word "quarantine" has also been used by the Roman Catholic Church to refer to a forty-day period of penance.

Between the eighth and tenth centuries public confessions of the kind described above declined in popularity. Instead, people began to confess their sins privately to a priest. The several days preceding Lent became a popular time to complete this duty (see also Shrovetide). Lent itself provided a season in which to carry out the prescribed penance. In 1091 the Council of Benevento, a meeting of Church leaders, ordered that each and every Christian receive ashes at the start of Lent. This ritual, performed on Ash Wednesday, acknowledged that all human beings were sinners and ushered in Lent as a season of general repentance.

Fasting

Fasting, the oldest and most widespread Lenten custom, was practiced in an especially severe manner during the early Middle Ages, by both Western and Eastern Christians. Those following the fast ate only one meal a day sometime in the late afternoon. The meal contained no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products. Even on Sundays meat was still forbidden. Beginning in the ninth century, however, Western Christians gradually began to loosen the strict requirements of the fast. The restriction against eating fish was lifted, and by the thirteenth century a light evening meal was permitted. By the fifteenth century even religious communities had moved the one daily meal closer to noon. Over time the prohibition against dairy products was abandoned. In the last several centuries the requirements of the Lenten fast have changed drastically for Roman Catholics. Meat became acceptable for the main Sunday meal, and then acceptable even for weekday meals, excluding Fridays. In 1966 Pope Paul VI almost completely eliminated fasting during Lent, retaining the custom only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, when meat is forbidden and only one full meal and two light meals should be taken. Observant Roman Catholics also abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent.

The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has maintained the rigorous fasting practices it inherited from medieval times. Strictly observant Orthodox Christians will abstain from eating meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, olive oil, wine and other alcoholic beverages for the duration of Lent. Other Orthodox Christians modify the official regime to suit their abilities and needs. Traditional Orthodox teachings, however, emphasize that Lent should be approached with joy rather than sorrow. Orthodoxy maintains that the repentance that God desires is not so much our grief over past sins, but rather our purification and renewed devotion, which fasting helps to bring about.

Orthodox Great Lent lasts slightly longer than Western Lent. It begins on the evening of the seventh Sunday preceding Easter, called Forgiveness Sunday. The first full day of Great Lent falls on the following day, Clean Monday. Many writers assert that in early medieval times, Eastern Christians fasted neither on Sundays nor on Saturdays, except on Holy Saturday. Thus Orthodox Christians began their Lent somewhat earlier than did Western Christians, in order to fill the tally of forty days. Contemporary Orthodox Christians maintain their fast throughout Lent, though fish may be eaten on the Feast of the Annunciation and, according to some, on Palm Sunday. Some Orthodox Christian authorities also permit a slight relaxation of the fast on Saturdays and Sundays, by permitting the consumption of wine and olive oil. In addition Orthodox Christians practice a kind of eucharistic fasting during the weekdays of Lent, celebrating the Divine Liturgy (see also Eucharist) only on Saturdays, Sundays, and the Feast of the Annunciation. Today the Orthodox fast begins a week before the official beginning of Orthodox Lent, with the removal of meat products from the diet (see also Cheese Week; Pre-Lent). Since the Orthodox use a different set of rules to calculate the date of Easter, the Western and Eastern Lent periods usually fall during a different, but overlapping, series of weeks in the spring (see also Easter, Date of).

Orthodox Christians refer to the pre-Easter Lenten period as "Great Lent" in order to distinguish it from other lengthy fasts that occur during the church year. For example, very observant Orthodox Christians will also fast in the weeks preceding Christmas, an observance which is sometimes called "Little Lent" or "Christmas Lent."

Contemporary Observance

In recent decades Western Christians have placed less emphasis on fasting and traditional forms of penance, and more emphasis on study, prayer, worship, almsgiving, and other activities that foster spiritual renewal. Still, many Western Christians continue to view Lent as a time to practice self-discipline and austerity. The purpose of this austerity is to remove distractions that might prevent the faithful from focusing on the reality of their own shortcomings. Fasting and other kinds of self-discipline, themselves a form of austerity, are thought to strengthen the will and thereby increase one's ability to refrain from sin as well as one's inclination to devote oneself more fully to God. In many churches Lenten décor and music express the season's austerity. In some churches the organ is silent throughout Lent, no flowers are used in decorations, and the joyous exclamation alleluia is neither said nor sung. In some places the clergy veils religious images during the last days of Lent, thereby enforcing a kind of visual austerity. Although the Roman Catholic Church no longer requires Catholics to abstain from certain foods throughout the Lenten season, many still choose to give up a favorite food for Lent as a minor form of self-discipline. Some Anglicans and other Protestants also follow this custom.

In the Western Christian tradition the Lenten season is comprised of two distinct phases. The first five weeks call Christians to repentance. The last week, called Holy Week, focuses worshipers'attention on the events which took place in the last days of Jesus' life as a final preparation for Easter. For more on Lenten practices, customs, and symbols, see also Ash Wednesday; Descent into Hell; Fire Sunday; Golden Rose; Good Friday; Holy Saturday; Holy Sepulchre; Holy Week; Laetare Sunday; Lazarus Saturday; Maundy Thursday; Palm; Palm Sunday; Penitentes; Pre-Lent; Soul Saturdays; Spy Wednesday; Stations of the Cross; Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross; Tenebrae; and Triduum

Further Reading

Cowie, L. W., and John Selwyn Gummer. The Christian Calendar. Springfield, MA: G. and C. Merriam, 1974. Garrett, Linda Oaks. "Repentance." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Hopko, Thomas. The Orthodox Faith. Volume Two, Worship. Syosset, NY: The Orthodox Church in America, 1972. Johnson, Maxwell E. "Preparation for Pascha? Lent in Christian Antiquity." In Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman, eds. Easter and Passover: The Symbolic Structuring of Sacred Seasons. Two Liturgical Traditions series, volume 6. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. "Lent." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Matera, Frank J. "Repentance." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Metford, J. C. J. The Christian Year. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Myers, Allen C., ed. "Redemption." In The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987. O'Shea, W. J. "Lent." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 8. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. "Repentance." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Simpson, D. P. Cassell's New Latin Dictionary. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1959. Skeat, W. W. An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth edition, revised, enlarged, and reset. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1958. Slim, Hugo. A Feast of Festivals. London, England: Marshall Pickering, 1996. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986. Thurston, Herbert. "Lent." In Charles G. Herbermann et al., eds. The Cath- olic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1913. Available online at: Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954. ---. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1952. Wybrew, Hugh. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997.

Web Sites

"Great Lent," a page describing the beliefs and practices of Orthodox Christians concerning Lent, posted by the Orthodox Church in America:

"Fasting," an essay by the Rev. George Mastrantonis describing Greek Orthodox fasting customs posted on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, New York, NY, web site at:

"The Great Lent," an essay by the Rev. George Mastrantonis describing the history and customs of Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church, posted on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, New York, NY, web site at:

Lent

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Forty days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter eve
Where Celebrated: By Christians all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Birch Branches, Fasting, Lenten Fires
Colors: Lent is associated with the color purple, which symbolizes penance.
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Carnival, Easter, Good Friday, Maslenitsa, Shrove Tuesday

ORIGINS

The observance of Lent is part of the religious tradition of Christianity, the largest of the world's religions, with nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

Self-denial during a period of intense religious devotion is a long-standing tradition in both the Eastern and Western churches. In the early days, Christians prepared for EASTER by fasting from GOOD FRIDAY until Easter morning. It wasn't until the ninth century that the Lenten season was fixed at forty days (with Sundays omitted), perhaps reflecting the importance attached to the number: Moses went without food for forty days on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel wandered for forty years, Elijah fasted for forty days, and so did Jesus, who also spent forty hours in his tomb.

"Lent" comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "spring" or "lengthening days." It is a period of self-examination and repentance in preparation for Easter and a time to strengthen one's faith in God through repentance and prayer. Lent has been observed for centuries with periods of strict FASTING , abstinence from meat (and in the East, from dairy products, wine, and olive oil as well), additional prayer services, and other penitential activities. It is customary for modern-day Christians to "give up something for Lent" -a favorite food or other worldly pleasure. It is also customary for the church organs to remain silent during this period, and for weddings and other celebrations to be prohibited.

Although the observation of Lent is usually associated with Roman Catholics, Protestant churches also observe Lent. Most offer Holy Communion on each of the Sundays during Lent, and some organize special Bible study classes for children and adults. Many churches set aside Sunday evenings during Lent for performances of cantatas, oratorios, and other Lenten music.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Birch Branches

In Sweden, the Lenten season is called Fastlagen. It falls at a time of year when the ground is still frozen and the trees are bare. People cut birch branches and tie colored chicken or rooster feathers to the boughs. At one time, the decorated branches were used to beat one another, a cleansing ritual designed to get rid of anything evil or unholy. The custom of "birching" also served as a symbolic reminder of the beatings that Jesus received on his way to be crucified. Today, the branches are used to decorate windowsills.

Fasting

From the time of the Apostles, the church had singled out Friday as a weekly day of fast. In addition, many early Christians observed a strict two-day fast from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Eventually a longer period of fasting was introduced in preparation for Easter, although its observance varied widely. Some churches fasted only during Holy Week, while others extended the fast for two or more weeks. Sunday was always an exception, and, in the Eastern church, so was Saturday. During the third and fourth centuries most churches adopted a fortyday fast in imitation of Christ, who had fasted for forty days in the wilderness after he was baptized. Back in the days when there were no calendars to tell people how close they were to the end of the fasting period, they invented their own methods of keeping track of the time. One of these primitive calendars looked like a nun cut out of paper, with no mouth (symbolizing the abstention from food) and with her hands crossed in prayer. She had seven feet, all facing in the same direction. Every Saturday one of the feet was torn off, until the fast was over. Another approach, used in Greece, was to stick seven chicken feathers in a boiled potato or onion hanging from the ceiling by a string. A feather was removed as each week passed.

For nearly 1,000 years, the Catholic Church followed the fasting rules laid down by Pope Gregory the Great: no meat or animal products, such as milk, cheese, eggs, or butter. This is still the routine among members of the Eastern Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. But a new ruling of the Ecumenical Council in Rome says that Catholics are obligated to fast on only two days during Lent: ASH WEDNESDAY and GOOD FRIDAY.

Lenten Fires

The custom of lighting fires on the first Sunday in Lent was widespread in Europe at one time and is still common in parts of Belgium, northern France, and Germany. Children go around collecting fuel and cutting down bushes for days in advance. The fires are lit in the evening, often by the individual who has most recently married. Young people sing and dance around the bonfire, leaping over the embers to guarantee a good harvest or a happy marriage within the year, or to guard themselves against colic. In some areas, torches are lit from the fire and carried into the surrounding orchards, gardens, and fields. Ashes from the torches may be shaken on the ground or put in hens' nests so there will be plenty of eggs. In Switzerland, where the first Sunday in Lent is known as Spark Sunday, a "witch"-usually made from old clothes and fastened to a pole-is stuck in the middle of the fire. Sometimes old wheels are wrapped in straw and thorns, lit on fire, and sent rolling down a nearby hill.

There is an old peasant saying that neglecting to kindle the fire on the first Sunday in Lent means that God will light it himself-i.e., that he will burn the house down. It was common at one time to roast cats alive over the Lenten fires. The cats symbolized the devil, who could never be put through too much suffering.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1931. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. 1958. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.

WEB SITES

Christian Resource Institute in Warr Acres, Oklahoma www.cresourcei.org/cylent.html

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm

Lent

Begins between February 4 and March 10 in West and between February 15 and March 21 in East; 40-day period, beginning on Ash Wednesday in the West and on the Monday seven weeks before Easter in the East; ends on Easter eve, Holy Saturday
Self-denial during a period of intense religious devotion has been a long-standing tradition in both the Eastern and Western churches. In the early days, Christians prepared for Easter with a strict fast only from Good Friday until Easter morning. It wasn't until the ninth century that the Lenten season, called the Great Lent in the East to differentiate it from the Advent fast called Little Lent, was fixed at 40 days (with Sundays omitted)—perhaps reflecting the biblical importance attached to the number 40: Moses had gone without food for 40 days on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel had wandered for 40 years with little sustenance, Elijah had fasted 40 days, and so did Jesus, between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry.
In the Western church further extensions led to a no-longer-existing "pre-Lent" season, with its Sundays called Septuagesima (roughly 70 days before Easter), Sexagesima (60), and Quinquagesima (50)—all preceding the first Sunday of Lent, Quadragesima (40).
The first day of Orthodox Lent is called Clean Monday.
For centuries the Lenten season has been observed with certain periods of strict fasting, and with abstinence from meat, and in the East, also from dairy products, wine, and olive oil, as well as giving up something—a favorite food or other worldly pleasure—for the 40 days of Lent. Celebrations such as Carnival and Mardi Gras offered Christians their last opportunities to indulge before the rigorous Lenten restrictions.
See also Ash Wednesday; Cheese Sunday; Mothering Sunday; Shrove Monday; Shrove Tuesday
CONTACTS:
Christian Resource Institute
4712 N. Hammond
Warr Acres, OK 73122
405-789-0449
www.cresourcei.org
Orthodox Church in America
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791
516-922-0550; fax: 516-922-0954
www.oca.org
SOURCES:
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DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 65
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 181, 212, 851
DictWrldRel-1989, pp. 154, 175, 425
EncyEaster-2002, p. 346
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 440
FestWestEur-1958, p. 211
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 162
HolSymbols-2009, p. 505
IndianAmer-1989, p. 273
OxYear-1999, p. 608
RelHolCal-2004, pp. 91, 118
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 115

Lent

Christianity the period of forty weekdays lasting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, observed as a time of penance and fasting commemorating Jesus' fasting in the wilderness