The word Lent comes from an old English word, “lencten”, which means “spring season”. It is a time of religious observance, covering the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday).
For Eastern Churches, the period of Lent ends on Holy Saturday, which is also Easter Vigil, the day before Easter Sunday.
Lent is celebrated by Christian religions as a period of reflection upon the suffering and death of Christ. Many Christians choose Lent as a time for spiritual discipline and to give up luxuries or make sacrifices to show their love for Christ.
Christians might fast or give up certain types of food or drink or make a Lenten observance, like a daily Bible reading, to become closer to God.
This article considers what Lent means for modern Christians, including a brief history and how to prepare for Lent.
Lent follows the liturgical calendar, which means that the date for Lent changes every year.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday (also known as Pancake Day or Mardi Gras).
Shrove Tuesday is a feast day starting before a 40-day period of fasting and reflection. The word “shrove” relates to being absolved from your sins or doing penance before the start of Lent.
This year, Lent 2021 runs from Ash Wednesday on February 17, 2021, until Maundy Thursday (April 1) (for most Christian religions) or Holy Saturday (April 3) for Eastern Orthodox religions.
The key dates for the season of Lent 2021 are:
On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, many Catholics attend Mass and receive the sign of the Cross on their foreheads to show remorse for their sins.
Daniel 9:3 says, “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” Ashes are associated with repentance in Christianity.
The last week of Lent is Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, where he's saluted by worshippers waving palm fronds. Modern churches typically celebrate Palm Sunday by the blessing and distribution of palm branches.
Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, where Jesus shows humility by washing his disciples’ feet. “Good Friday” is the Friday before Easter, representing the day that Jesus was crucified. Holy Saturday is the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb.
On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
While Lent runs for 46 days, it’s only observed Mondays to Saturdays each week because each Sunday in Lent is considered a celebration (of the risen Christ) and is exempted from Lenten requirements.
However, Eastern (orthodox) Christian churches include Sundays in Lent. For congregations of these churches, Lent starts on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and ends on the Friday nine days before Easter.
Lent runs for 40 days to reflect the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan.
On the first Sunday of Lent, Jesus walked into the wilderness, where he remained for 40 days without water or food.
The Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 tells us that: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards was hungry.”
When he was tempted by the Devil, Jesus responded with the words: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Historically, Catholics abstain from meat during Lent as a rite of Lenten fasting. Catholics also traditionally abstained from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays and Saturdays during Lent. This Lenten fast ends on Holy Saturday at noon.
During Lent, many Western churches remove ornate decorations (including flowers) from their altars. Some churches also shroud crucifixes and religious statues in violet fabrics as part of a solemn observation of the period of Lent.
Christian churches also discourage marriages or celebratory rituals during Lent to show respect and deference to the season.
There are many ways Christians can prepare for Easter during Lent. You can start by listening to a Daily Lenten Meditation.
In the same way that Advent prepares us for Christmas, Lent is a chance for families to reflect upon the sacrifices which God made in giving his only Son, Jesus, to die for us on the Cross.
Use Shrove Tuesday as a time for self-examination and personal reflection.
Decide which Lenten sacrifices to make during Lent. You might consider abstaining from your favorite food or drink or avoiding social media. Some Christians give up alcohol or sweets.
Choose to make Lent a time of special prayer and reflection. You could join an Easter-focused Bible study group in your local church community.
You might also want to give to others. This could include volunteering at a homeless shelter or donating your time or money to those in need. Helping others is a Lenten tradition.
When you use those 40 days to take time to praise and worship God, you'll find your relationship with God grows stronger. Use Lent to prepare your heart to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
You can learn humility by acknowledging your sins and asking God for forgiveness.
Observing Lent can help you learn to practice intentional behavior. By making sacrifices, Lent is an opportunity to learn simplicity and self-control.
Lent is an important time in the Christian calendar. It’s a time for solemn observance and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
Lent is meant to be a time of repentance, where Christians reflect upon the sacrifice that God made in having his only son Jesus suffer and die for us on the Cross. Lent is our chance to reflect upon Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and how He saved us from sin.
Reflect upon Psalm 33:20-22, which tells us, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”