Tuesday, February 24, 2009


A Brief History and Definition of Lent -

The Germanic word Lent (lecten), which we use to denote the forty days of preparation preceding the Paschal feast, originally meant simply the spring season. It has been used since the Anglo-Saxon period (9th Century) to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima, meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed from the relationship to the word Pentecost (pentekoste), which had been used as a name for the Jewish festival before the time of Christ.

In the first three centuries of Christian experience, preparation for the Paschal feast usually covered a period of one or two days, perhaps a week at the most. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (ca AD 140-202) even speaks of a forty-hour preparation for the Paschal celebration.

The first reference to Lent as a period of forty days preparation occurs in the teachings of the First Council of Nicea in AD 325. By the end of the fourth century, a Lenten period of forty days was established and accepted in the Church. Pope St. Leo (d. 461) exhorts the faithful to abstain they they may “fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the forty days.”

In its early development Lent quickly became associated with the sacrament of baptism, since Easter was the great baptismal feast. Those who were preparing to be baptized participated in the season of Lent in preparation for the reception of the sacrament of baptism. Eventually, those who were already baptized considered it important to join these candidates preparing for baptism in their preparation for Easter. The customs and practices of Lent, as we know them today, soon took hold.

Adapted from the “Lent and Easter Wisdom” series.

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