What a strange word ‘Lent’ is! In most languages this period of preparation before Easter has something to do with the word ‘forty’. In Latin it is quadragesima: in Italian it is quaresima; in Spanish cuaresima; in French carême. German is a little different with Fastenzeit - ‘the time of fasting’. Japanese is 四旬節 - but I have no idea what that means.
These words, then, either tell us something about the season (a time of fasting) or how long it lasts (forty days). Of course, in English we do not follow this practice. For us ‘Lent’ comes from Old English lencten which means Spring, or the time when the days are getting longer. We just have to be different! The forty days mirrors the forty days when Our Lord was in the desert preparing to begin His public ministry. This is why we begin Lent on the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent. The Latin West has never kept Sundays as fast day because the day of the Resurrection has always been held most important that fasting. But if we remove the Sundays from Lent, then we no longer have forty days. To make this up, Lent was extended before its first Sunday by adding the missing four days, thus arriving at Ash Wednesday.
|This is not a fish|
We fast, because Our Saviour fasted while He was in the wilderness. Although the great Lenten practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving - fasting has always been the most important. And we know that it has been important, because we have document after document for centuries upon centuries trying to get out of fasting! We have endless questions about what counts as a meal, and what we can eat, and how much of it, and if it includes wine or not. By the way, having to give up wine went out in the 13th century. So you can still have a dry sherry - but not too many! It was often the case the Kings and princes (and the Queens and princesses) were exempt from fasting, but this smacks of favouritism if you ask me. I believe puffins were defined as fish for a while, so could be eaten during Lent. Hunting and other celebrations were also banned during Lent, so that the whole season was focussed on God.
Anyway… Lent is a time when we follow the example of Our Lord, and as He prepared Himself for His Father’s work, so we prepare ourselves to be His followers and faithful servants. May your Lent be spiritually fruitful, full of the love of God.