What is Lent?
Is it an official Christian holiday? Was it instituted in the Bible? What does it mean to observe Lent, and are Christians “required” to do so?
Lent is the span of time in the church calendar that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert, and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after his crucifixion.
Lent, then, is generally observed as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing their hearts for Easter. It is commonly observed by many Christian denominations—Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and others—although not every Christian church or denomination does so. Because Lent is not officially instituted in Scripture, observing it isn’t in any way a “requirement” of Christianity. However, Christians from many different theological persuasions choose to observe it as a way of focusing their thoughts on Jesus Christ during the Easter season.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is officially the start of Lent but its exact date changes each year depending upon when Easter falls.
How is it calculated?
According to the norms established by the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and later adopted for Western Christianity at the Synod of Whitby, Easter Sunday falls each year on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year the vernal equinox falls on Monday, March 20, 2017 and the first full moon after that occurs on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Therefore, Easter Sunday is celebrated this year on April 16. If you want Ash Wednesday, just count backwards 46 days and you get March 1, 2017.
But why 46?
The six Sundays in Lent are not considered part of the official “Lenten fast” (every Sunday is a special remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ), and so if you subtract six from 46, you get the famous 40 days of Lent.
How do people observe Ash Wednesday?
To mark the day, clergy all over the world burn palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services to create ash.
This is then rubbed across people’s foreheads in the shape of the cross as they are reminded “For dust you are and to dust you shall return”.
The ceremony is meant to show followers that their lives are short and they must live them to the fullest.
This sees Lent begin and it continues until the Thursday before Easter weekend.
How is Lent observed?
It differs from person to person and church to church, but some of the things Christians opt to do to observe Lent include: