This weekend, here in St Louis, people have been celebrating Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras (also known as Carnival and “Fat Tuesday”) precedes the Holy Season of Lent. Most people, Christians included, know more about Mardi Gras than they do about Lent.
In a series of brief blogs, we’ll explore the Season of Lent. Topics will include Origin and Purpose, Important Days, Obligations and denominational differences in observing Lent.
Origins of Lent
There is nothing in the Bible establishing the celebration of the Lenten Season. Its origins are in Christian tradition, perhaps as early as Apostolic times. Early Christians began preparing for celebration of the Resurrection (Easter or the Paschal Feast) with two days of reflection and fasting (modern Good Friday and the Saturday following.) Gradually, the time of preparation and fasting was expanded until by 350 CE it was 40 days.
Today the Season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 9, 2011) and runs though the Saturday preceding Easter (April 23, 2011). The 40 days of Lent exclude Sundays, the Lord’s Day.
In the early days of the Church (Roman Catholic was the only church then), Lent had two major emphases:
(1) It was seen as a time of repentance and denial of self. All Christians were to examine their lives according to the Ten Commandments and other Christian ethical precepts and repent where necessary. They were to remember what it cost their Savior to save them.
(2) It was a time of instruction and preparation for the electi who wanted to become members of the Christian Church. This practice has generally been replaced with formal preparation for First Communion or Confirmation in the modern church.
The celebration of Lent varies widely among various denominations today. For some, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Lent is given great importance. In some Protestant denominations, Lent is barely recognized at all. We’ll look at the reasons for these differences in a later blog.
Alive in The Word