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Lent (Latin: Quadragesima - English: Fortieth) is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Day. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. This event, along with its pious customs are observed by Christians in the Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.
Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the tradition and events of the New Testament beginning on Friday of Sorrows, further climaxing on Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday, which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves near to God. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event. Throughout Christendom, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, most notably among Roman Catholics.
Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent, before beginning his public ministry, fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by the Devil. In most of the West, it begins on Ash Wednesday. Different Christian denominations calculate its length differently. On this see Duration, below.
In Latin the term quadragesima (translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, the "fortieth" day before Easter) is used. This nomenclature is preserved in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages (for example, Spanish cuaresma, Portuguese quaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima, Romanian păresimi, Croatian korizma, Irish Carghas, and Welsh C(a)rawys).
In most Slavic languages the common name is simply a phrase meaning "fasting time" (as Czech postní doba) or "great fast" (as Russian великий пост vyeliki post or Polish wielki post). In Tagalog, the name retains from its Spanish wording Cuaresma while the local wording uses "Mahal na Araw" or "Beloved Days".
In the late Middle Ages, as sermons began to be given in the vernacular instead of Latin, the English word lent was adopted. This word initially simply meant spring (as in the German language Lenz and Dutch lente) and derives from the Germanic root for long because in the spring the days visibly lengthen.
Different Christian denominations calculate the forty days of Lent differently. In the West, the prevailing calculation has been that which makes the season of Lent last from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. This calculation makes Lent last 46 days, if the 6 Sundays are included, but only 40, if they are excluded, because there was no obligation to fast on the 6 Sundays in Lent. This definition is still that of the Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, Methodist Church, and Western Rite Orthodox Church.
Since 1969, the Catholic Church's definition of Lent in the Roman Rite is: "The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive." That makes a total of 44 liturgical days, since the Mass of the Lord's Supper on what in the civil calendar is the evening of Holy Thursday is already part of the Good Friday liturgical day, the first of the three days of the Paschal Triduum, or 38 days, if Sundays are excluded. Accordingly, the expression "forty days of Lent" is "approximative, for spiritual purposes". Since the first two days of the Paschal Triduum, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, are days of fast like the Lenten weekdays, the total number of days of fast is exactly forty.
In the Ambrosian Rite of the Latin Catholic Church, Lent begins on the Sunday that follows what is celebrated as Ash Wednesday elsewhere and ends as in the Roman Rite, thus being of 40 days, counting the Sundays but not Holy Thursday. The fast begins on Monday, the first weekday in Lent, and ends as in the Roman Rite. The special Ash Wednesday fast is transferred to the first Friday of the Ambrosian Lent. Until this rite was revised by Saint Charles Borromeo the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent was festive, celebrated in white vestments with chanting of the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluia, in line with the recommendation in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast, do not look gloomy".
In those churches which follow the Rite of Constantinople, i.e., the Eastern Orthodox and the Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholics (not all Eastern Catholics), the forty days of Lent and of fasting, which include Sundays, begin not on Ash Wednesday, but on Clean Monday. Lent then ends on the fortieth day from that date, which is the Friday before Palm Sunday. The days of Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are considered a distinct period of fasting. For more detailed information about this practice of Lent, see the article Great Lent.
In addition, determination of the date of Easter in the East is not based on the Gregorian calculations (see Computus). In most years this results in a difference of some weeks, which can be as many as five.
Among the Oriental Orthodox, there are various local traditions regarding Lent. The Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches observe eight weeks of Lent, which, with both Saturdays and Sunday mornings exempt, has forty days of fasting. Only food, water and salt may be allowed during fasting, which runs for a total of 56 days.
Others attribute these seven days to the fast of Holofernes who asked the Syrian Christians to fast for him after they requested his assistance to repel the invading pagan Persians. Joyous Saturday and the week preceding it are counted separately from the forty-day fast in accordance with the Apostolic Constitutions giving an extra eight days.
The number forty has many Biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18); the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); the forty days and nights God sent rain in the great flood of Noah (Genesis 7:4); the forty years the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33); the forty days Jonah gave in his prophecy of judgment to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed (Jonah 3:4).
Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where He fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–2, Mark 1:12–13, Luke 4:1–2). He overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and He began His ministry. Jesus further said that His disciples should fast "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them" (Matthew 9:15), a reference to his Passion. Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial.
It is the traditional belief that Jesus lay for forty hours in the tomb which led to the forty hours of total fast that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church (the biblical reference to 'three days in the tomb' is understood as spanning three days, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, rather than three 24 hour periods of time). One of the most important ceremonies at Easter was the baptism of the initiates on Easter Eve. The fast was initially undertaken by the catechumens to prepare them for the reception of this sacrament. Later, the period of fasting from Good Friday until Easter Day was extended to six days, to correspond with the six weeks of training, necessary to give the final instruction to those converts who were to be baptized.
Converts to Catholicism followed a strict catechumenate or period of instruction and discipline prior to baptism. In Jerusalem near the close of the fourth century, classes were held throughout Lent for three hours each day. With the legalization of Christianity (by the Edict of Milan) and its later imposition as the state religion of the Roman Empire, its character was endangered by the great influx of new members. In response, the Lenten fast and practices of self-renunciation were required annually of all Christians, both to show solidarity with the catechumens, and for their own spiritual benefit.
There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour).
However, in modern times, observers give up an action of theirs considered to be a vice, add something that is considered to be able to bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.
In addition, some believers add a regular spiritual discipline, such as reading a Lenten daily devotional. Another practice commonly added is the singing of Stabat Mater hymn in designated groups. Among Filipino Catholics, the recitation of Jesus Christ' passion called Pasiong Mahal is also observed. In some Christian countries, grand religious processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.
In many liturgical Christian denominations, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday form the Easter Triduum. Lent is a season of grief that necessarily ends with a great celebration of Easter. It is known in Eastern Orthodox circles as the season of "Bright Sadness." It is a season of sorrowful reflection which is punctuated by breaks in the fast on Sundays.
In the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service, and Anglican Eucharist, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is not normally sung during the Lenten season, disappearing on Ash Wednesday and not returning until Maundy Thursday, the joyful commemoration of Christ's institution of the Holy Eucharist. It may, however, be sung on certain solemnities and feasts that occur during Lent, such as the Annunciation.
Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during Lent. It is replaced before the Gospel reading by a seasonal acclamation such as "Praise to you, O Christ, king of eternal glory". In the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite omission of the Alleluia begins with Septuagesima. Even on feasts in Lent, Alleluia is not sung.
In the Byzantine Rite, the Gloria (Great Doxology) continues to be used in its normal place in the Matins service, and the Alleluia appears all the more frequently, replacing "God is the Lord" at Matins.
In certain pious Catholic countries prior to the Second Vatican Council, religious objects were veiled for the entire forty-days of Lent. Though perhaps uncommon in the United States of America, this pious practice is consistently observed in Malaga, Seville and Barcelona, Spain, as well as in Malta, Goa, India, Peru and the Philippine islands (with the exception on processional images). In Ireland prior to Vatican II, when impoverished rural Catholic convents and parishes could not afford purple fabrics, they resorted to either removing the statues altogether, or if too heavy or bothersome; turned the statues to face the wall. As is popular custom, the 14 Stations of the Cross plaques on the walls are not veiled.
Former crucifixes made before the time of Saint Francis of Assisi did not have a corpus (body of Christ), therefore adorned with jewels and gemstones which was referred to as Crux Gemmatae. In order to keep the faithful from adoring the Crucifixes elaborated with ornamentation, veiling it in royal purple fabrics came into place. The violet colour later evolved as a color of penance and mourning.
Further liturgical changes in modernity reduced it to the last week of Passiontide. In cases where no violet fabrics could be afford by the parish, only the heads of the statues were veiled. If there were no fabrics afforded at all, the religious statues and images were turned around facing the wall and flowers were always removed as a sign of solemn mourning. In pre-1970 forms of the Roman Rite, the last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide, a period beginning on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal is called the First Sunday in Passiontide and in earlier editions Passion Sunday. All statues (and in England paintings as well) in the church were traditionally veiled in violet. This was seen as in keeping with the Gospel of that Sunday (John 8:46–59), in which Jesus “hid himself” from the people.
Due to the lack of piety and ornate Catholic artwork by general within the United States of America after the Second Vatican Council, the need to veil statues or crosses became increasingly irrelevant and deemed unnecessary by various diocesan bishops. As a result, the veils were removed at the singing of the Gloria during the Easter Vigil. In 1970 the name "Passiontide" was dropped, although the last two weeks are markedly different from the rest of the season, and continuance of the tradition of veiling images is left to the decision of a country's conference of bishops or even to individual parishes as pastors may wish.
On Good Friday, the Lutherans, Methodists and Anglican churches veil "all pictures, statutes, and the cross are covered in mourning black" while the chancel and altar coverings are replaced with black, and altar candles are extinguished." The fabrics are then "replaced with white on sunrise on Easter Sunday".
The traditional carnival celebrations which precede Lent in many cultures have become associated with the season of fasting if only because they are a last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. The most famous pre-Lenten carnival in the world is celebrated in Rio de Janeiro; other famous Carnivals are held in Trinidad & Tobago, Venice, Cologne, Tenerife, Mobile, AL, St. Louis, MO, and New Orleans, LA. It is known by the name Mardi Gras, Pancake Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday.
Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while others will permit fish, others permit fish and fowl, others prohibit fruit and eggs, and still others eat only bread.
In some places, the observant abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal each day, while others abstained from all food until mid-afternoon. In most places the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without vegetables or alcohol was eaten. The voluntary fasting common today comprises a main meal with two smaller repasts called collations which not exceed the caloric total of the main meal.
During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs and dairy products were generally forbidden. In favour of the traditional practice, observed both in East and West, Thomas Aquinas argued that "they afford greater pleasure as food [than fish], and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust." Aquinas also authorized the consumption of candy during Lent, because "sugared spices" (such as comfits) were, in his opinion, digestive aids on par with medicine rather than food.
Giraldus Cambrensis in his Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales reports that "in Germany and the arctic regions," "great and religious persons," eat the tail of beavers as "fish" because of its superficial resemblance to "both the taste and colour of fish." The animal was also very abundant in Wales at the time.
In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstinence from all animal products including fish, eggs, fowl and milk sourced from animals (e.g. goats and cows as opposed to the milk of soy beans and coconuts) is still commonly practiced, so that, where this is observed, only vegetarian (vegan) meals are consumed for the whole of Lent, 45 days in the Byzantine Rite. In the Western Catholic Church, the obligation to fast no longer applies to all weekdays of Lent (40 days), but only to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the tradition of this part of the Catholic Church, abstinence from eating some form of food (generally meat, but not fish or dairy products) is distinguished from fasting. Fasting involves having during the day only one proper meal with up to two "collations",  light meatless meals sufficient to maintain strength but not adding up to the equivalent of a full meal.In principle, abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on every Friday of the year that is not a solemnity (a liturgical feast day of the highest rank); but in each country the episcopal conference can determine the form it is to take, perhaps replacing abstinence with other forms of penance.
Present canonical legislation on these matters follows the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, in which he recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation, and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. He also allowed replacing fast and abstinence by prayer and works of charity in countries with a lower standard of living. The law of abstinence binds those aged 14 or over, and that of fast binds those who are at least 18 years of age and not yet 60. The sick and those who have special needs are excused, and dispensations can be granted by episcopal conferences or individual bishops, which can be wider outside of Lent. Even in Lent the rule about solemnities holds, so that the obligation of Friday abstinence does not apply on 19 and 25 March when, as usually happens, the solemnities of Saint Joseph and the Annunciation are celebrated on those dates. The same applies to Saint Patrick's Day, which is a solemnity in the whole of Ireland as well as in dioceses that have Saint Patrick as principal patron saint. In some other places too, where there are strong Irish traditions within the Catholic community, a dispensation is granted for that day. In Hong Kong, where Ash Wednesday often coincides with Chinese New Year celebrations, a dispensation is then granted from the laws of fast and abstinence, and the faithful are exhorted to use some other form of penance.
After the Protestant Reformation, in the Lutheran Church "Church orders of the 16th century retained the observation of the Lenten fast, and Lutherans have observed this season with a serene, earnest attitude." In the Anglican Church, Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, a companion to the Book of Common Prayer, states that fasting is "usually meaning not more than a light breakfast, one full meal, and one half meal, on the forty days of Lent." It further states that "the major Fast Days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as the American Prayer-Book indicates, are stricter in obligation, though not in observance, than the other Fast Days, and therefore should not be neglected except in cases of serious illness or other necessity of an absolute character."
Traditionally, on Sunday and the hours before sunrise and after sunset some Churches such as Episcopalians allow 'breaks' in their Lent promises. For Roman Catholics, the Lenten penitential season ends after the Easter Vigil Mass. Orthodox Christians also break their fast after the Paschal Vigil, a service which starts around 11:00 pm on Holy Saturday, and which includes the Paschal celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. At the end of the service, the priest blesses eggs, cheese, flesh meats and other items that the faithful have been abstaining from for the duration of Great Lent.
Lenten traditions and liturgical practices are less common, less binding and sometimes non-existent among some liberal and progressive Christians, since these generally do not emphasize piety and the mortification of the flesh as a significant virtue. A greater emphasis on anticipation of Easter Sunday is often encouraged more than the penitence of Lent or Holy Week.
Christians as well as secular groups also interpret the Lenten fast in a positive tone, not as renunciation but as contributing to causes such as environmental stewardship and improvement of health.
During Lent, BBC's Radio Four normally broadcasts a series of fifteen-minute programmes called the Lent Talks. These are fifteen-minute programmes that are normally broadcast on a Wednesday, and have featured various speakers.
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There are several holy days within the season of Lent:
In the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Old Catholic, and many other churches, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. After this Maundy Thursday evening celebration, the consecrated Hosts are taken from the altar solemnly to a place of reposition where the faithful are invited to worship the holy Body of Christ. On the next day the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 pm, unless a later time is chosen due to work schedules.
This service consists of readings from the Scriptures especially John the Evangelist's account of the Passion of Jesus, followed by prayers, veneration of the cross of Jesus, and a communion service at which the hosts consecrated at the evening Mass of the day before are distributed. The Easter Vigil during the night between Holy Saturday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning starts with the blessing of a fire and a special candle and with readings from Scripture associated with baptism, then the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung, water is blessed, baptism and confirmation of adults may take place, and the people are invited to renew the promises of their own baptism, and finally Mass is celebrated in the usual way from the Preparation of the Gifts onwards.
Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. It is custom for some churches to hold sunrise services which include open air celebrations in some places.
In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and many Anglican churches, the priest's vestments are violet during the season of Lent. On the fourth Sunday in Lent, rose-coloured (pink) vestments may be worn in lieu of violet. In some Anglican churches, a type of unbleached linen or muslin known as Lenten array is used during the first three weeks of Lent, and crimson during Passiontide. On holy days, the colour proper to the day is worn. Today, some atheists who find value in the Christian tradition, also observe Lent.
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