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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 fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by the Devil. However, different Christian denominations calculate the forty days of Lent differently. Historically, the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and includes the Paschal Triduum. This duration has been maintained by most Western Christian denominations, including the Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, Methodist Church, and Western Rite Orthodox Church. However, after the liturgical abbreviations of the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church, Lent, in that denomination alone, is now taken to end on Maundy Thursday rather than Easter Eve, and hence lasts 38 days excluding Sundays, or 44 days in total.
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. Historically, the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and includes the Paschal Triduum, totaling forty days. This duration has been maintained by most Western Christian denominations, including the Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, Methodist Church, and Western Rite Orthodox Church. In the Roman Catholic Church, however, since the Second Vatican Council, that denomination has affirmed that the first day of the Easter Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the second day begins at sundown the following day, and the final day begins after sundown that Saturday. Lenten observances are maintained until the Easter Vigil, but the liturgical season of Lent ends when Mass starts the evening of Maundy Thursday. Therefore, Roman Catholics have 44 days in Lent (inclusive of all Sundays). One notable exception in the Roman Catholic Church is the Archdiocese of Milan, which follows the Ambrosian Rite and observes Lent starting on the Sunday six weeks before Easter, a move liturgically approved by Pope Gregory the Great.
In those churches which follow the Rite of Constantinople (e.g. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics), the forty days of Lent are counted differently; also, the date of Easter is calculated differently in the East than in the West (see Computus). The fast begins on Clean Monday, and Sundays are included in the count.
Thus, counting uninterruptedly from Clean Monday, Great Lent ends on the fortieth consecutive day, 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 the Eastern Christian practice of Lent, see the article Great Lent.
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 body corpus, 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 of a main meal with two smaller repasts caled collations which not exceed the caloric total of the main meal.
During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs and dairy products were generally forbidden. 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."
However, dispensations for dairy products were given, frequently for a donation, from which several churches are popularly believed to have been built, including the "Butter Tower" of the Rouen Cathedral.
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, meaning only vegetarian (vegan) meals are consumed in many Eastern countries[which?] for the entire fifty-five days of their Lent. In the Roman Catholic Church for the duration of Lent, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday it is required to eat less than is customary for the day, with no meat, eating only one full meal and two small meals also totalling less than a full meal.
Pursuant to Canon 1253, days of fasting and abstinence are set by the national Episcopal Conference. Parallel to the fasting laws are the laws of abstinence. These bind those over the age of fourteen. On days of abstinence, the person must not eat meat or poultry. According to canon law, all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday and several other days are days of abstinence, though in most countries, the strict requirements for abstinence have been limited by the bishops (in accordance with Canon 1253) to the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. On other abstinence days, the faithful are invited to perform some other act of penance.
Exceptions to abstinence on Fridays during the Lenten Season can occur through the dispensation of a particular bishop. For example, in the United States in areas where the diocesan patron is St. Patrick (as in the Archdiocese of New York and Los Angeles) or where many Catholics share an Irish heritage (as in Boston), if St. Patrick's Day (17 March) falls on a Friday, the local bishop or archbishop can grant a dispensation to all Catholics of the diocese from abstinence. (Approximately one third of all Catholic dioceses in the United States grant such a dispensation.)
More universally, this occurs on the solemnities of St. Joseph and the Annunciation, which are on 19 and 25 March respectively (unless they conflict with a day of high rank in the calendar of the season). If those two solemnities, although not Holy Days of Obligation, fall on a Friday during Lent then the obligation to abstain is abrogated. Similarly, during those two solemnities, the faithful may temporarily partake of anything they gave up for Lent, unless they were trying to give up a habitual sin as their Lenten offering- which is not uncommon.
Contemporary legislation is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini. He recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation, and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. He also allowed that fasting and abstinence might be substituted with prayer and works of charity in nations with a lower standard of living.
After the 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, Roman Catholics may cease their fasting and start again whatever they gave up for Lent, after they attend Mass on Easter Sunday. Orthodox Christians break their fast after the Paschal Vigil (a service which starts around 11:00 pm on Holy Saturday), 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 or non-compulsory in tone among some liberal and progressive Christians since they do not generally emphasize piety and the mortification of the flesh as a significant virtue. A greater emphasis on the anticipation of Easter Sunday is often more encouraged than the desolate theme of Lent or Holy Week.
In modern times, some progressive Christian denominations as well as secular groups re-interpret the theme of Lent in a more joyful, positive tone, or engage its purpose towards non-religious causes such as environmental stewardship or health-related improvements via fasting.
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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