Liturgical Season of Lent
What is Lent?
It is a liturgical season that is ordered to preparing for the celebration of Easter, since the lenten liturgy prepares for celebration of the paschal mystery both catechumens, by the various stages of Christian initiation, and the faithful, who recall their own Baptism and do penance.1
Where does the word "Lent" come from?
The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season.2
When does Lent begin and end?
It runs from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive. Lent begins at 12:01 a.m. on Ash Wednesday and runs to just before the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday.3
Is Lent exactly forty days long as currently...
A little longer than forty days. The number is approximative, for spiritual purposes.
Are the Sundays in Lent part of Lent?
Yes. Furthermore, Sundays of this time of year are called the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. The Sixth Sunday, on which Holy Week begins, is called, "Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.4
Why is the number forty significant?
Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality and penance. In the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1). Anna the Prophetess fasted to prepare herself for the coming of the Messiah (Lk 2:37), Job repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel wrote, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). Jesus made reference to ashes, "If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago" (Matthew 11:21).5
Pope Benedict explains:
Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry” (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.6
What are the rules for fasting in Lent?
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast. The law of fast binds those who are from 18 to 59 years old, unless they are excused for a sufficient reason (e.g., a medical condition that requires more frequent food, etc.).
The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom.7 Fasting has its health benefits, but it’s not the same as dieting. Fasting is something spiritual and far more positive. Fasting is a spiritual feast. It does for the soul what food does for the body. The Bible spells out specific spiritual benefits of fasting. It produces humility (Ps 69:10). It shows our sorrow for our sins (1 Sam 7:6). It clears a path to God (Dan 9:3). It is a means of discerning God’s will (Ezr 8:21) and a powerful method of prayer (8:23). It’s a mark of true conversion (Jl 2:12).8
What are the rules for abstinence in Lent?
Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence (as well as Good Friday). An exception is if a solemnity falls on a Friday, but no solemnities fall on Fridays in 2015, so all Fridays are days of abstinence.
The law of abstinence binds those who are 14 years old or older.
The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat.9
Do you have to give up something for Lent? If you...
The traditional custom of giving up something for Lent is voluntary. Consequently, if you give something up, you set the parameters. If you choose to allow yourself to have it on Sundays as to promote joy on this holy day, that is up to you.
1 Article 27: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWLITYR.HTM
3 Article 28: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWLITYR.HTM