This year, the season of Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1 and ends on Thursday, April 13. During this 40-day period, Christians prepare for Easter by practicing self-denial and simplicity, focusing on spiritual renewal and growth, and reflecting on Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
Meaning and History of Lent
The word "Lent" itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words lencten, meaning "Spring," and lenctentid, which literally means not only "Springtide" but also was the word for "March," the month in which the majority of Lent falls.
The Canons of Nicaea (AD 325) were the first to mention 40 days of fasting. At that time, the fasts tended to be very strict, allowing one meal a day, and even then meats, eggs, and other indulgences were forbidden.
By the 10th century, the monk Aelfric tied the practice, which dates to the eighth century, to the period before Easter, writing, "Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast."
While the term "Lent" is not directly identified in the Bible, Matthew 4 speaks of Jesus' period in the Judean Wilderness, where He spent 40 days and 40 nights in solitude, prayer, and fasting. Thus, the forty days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan before starting his ministry.
Lent began as a way for followers of Christ to remind themselves of the value of repentance, self-examination and prayer and reflects how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3).
In many Protestant churches today, the liturgical season of Lent continues through Holy Saturday. However, for many Catholic churches, Lent ends liturgically before Holy Thursday.
Lent Readings and Devotionals
Repentance is the foundation of our joy. Our penitence is not for God's sake. He doesn't need it; we do. We do it to be reminded who we really are: sinners, undeserving of God's mercy, yet - mysteriously and wonderfully - the recipients of it!
Let us pray that God would give us a good and fruitful Lent, making known to us, in deeper and richer ways, the inexhaustible mystery of his mercy.
Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle chatter. Rather grant to me, your servant, the Spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love. Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own sins and not judge my brothers and sisters; for you are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen. (St. Ephrem of Edessa)
- From Trinity School for Ministry
Yet even now, says the Lord,
Return to me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
Rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
for the Lord, your God?
- Joel 2:12-14
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'" Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
- Matthew 4:1-11
Let everything I do this day and in this season of Lent
come from you, be inspired by you.
I long to be closer to you.
Help me to remember that nothing is important in my life
unless it glorifies you in some way.
It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day of my life and keep saying,
"Tomorrow, I will spend more time in prayer,"
but now my longing meets your love and I want to do it now.
Help me to rely on you for help.
The prayer asks you that I reach perfection.
Please, Lord, remind me that "perfection"
isn't the crazy, "successful" way I try to live my life,
but a perfection of my most authentic, real self.
My "perfection" might be holding my many flaws in my open hands,
asking you to help me accept them.
Heal me, Lord, and help me to find you in the darkness of my life.
Let me reach out in this darkness and feel your hand and love there to guide me.
- Lenten prayer