Lent is a liturgical season treasured by many Christians in which they prepare for the death and Resurrection of Jesus through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. But, where does this season and its activities come from?
Neither the word Lent nor the season it names is mentioned in the Bible. The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for Spring, but the Christian practice began long before the season had a name. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wrote describing a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter Sunday which began in the earliest days of the Church, although it varied among congregations and was not for 40 days. Also in the earliest days of the Church, Christians in Egypt fasted and prayed for 40 days after the feast of the Theophany, or the Baptism of Jesus, on the sixth of January. Over time, these two practices merged as the Church began to prioritize the baptism of new Christians at the Easter Vigil, leading to the season of Lent being described as 40 days of preparation for Easter at the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
As for the three traditional pillars of Lent, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, they are established as essential aspects of the Christian spiritual life by Christ in the sixth chapter of the gospel of Saint Matthew. Jesus teaches His disciples that they should not be like the hypocrites who do good deeds for their own glorification, but to give alms, pray, and fast without ostentation.
All of the most important events of our lives involve a time of preparation. We have years of school before graduations. We have months or years of preparation before weddings. We are in the midst of the years of preparation we have before each presidential election. The spiritual life is no different. We have seasons of preparation before Christmas and Easter, and seasons of celebration for Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Lent is our opportunity to refocus on the essentials of our spiritual life, to remove whatever separates us from total intimacy with Christ, and to augment what brings us closer to Him. By the end of the 40 days of Lent, we hope to have recognized that we hunger for the Lord more than the things of this world, and to have removed any obstacles that have kept us from living totally for and with Him. I wish you all a fruitful season of Lent and a blessed Easter.