Why Do We Fast at Lent?
Lent is the period of forty days observed by Christians across the globe during Easter. It is a season of reflection, repentance, and self-denial. It is the latter – self-denial- that both Christians and non-Christians alike associate with Lent. It is common to hear individuals talk about what they plan on giving up for Lent. But what does this mean? Why do people give up something for Lent and what is the real purpose of observing this religious calendar event? In this article, we talk about the long-standing practice of lent to better understand why people fast during the 40-day period.
What is Lent?
The word “lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten,” which means spring. This isn’t a very descriptive or spiritual word to explain the purpose of this religious event, but it certainly gives a hint as to the time of the year that Christians observe Lent.
Lenten fasting started in the early Church. Later the ritual became widespread with a standard set of practices and expectations. The real purpose of Lent is to prepare Christians for Resurrection Sunday (more commonly called Easter) by stepping away from the things of the world to focus mainly on Christ.
Observation of the Lenten fasting season has been happening for more than a thousand years. It’s unclear when exactly it started, but letters from different church leaders mention Lent as early as AD 203. In AD 313, the practices became officially recognized and encouraged in the Catholic church.
The Bible doesn’t specifically mention the Lent period; but some have interpreted scriptural references to lay the foundation for the 40-day religious observation. In the New Testament, Jesus spends 40 days in the desert, facing trials, and temptations of all kinds. For this reason, some followers of Christ spend 40 days fasting each year before Easter, to remember the suffering and triumph of Jesus Christ. By the time the Lent period is over, and Easter rolls around, Christians who participated in lent feel more prepared to rejoice and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus following His death on the cross.
When Does Lent Happen?
Depending on the denomination of the church, the period of Lent can start at different times. However, the standard practice for most churches is to begin Lent on Ash Wednesday and end it on Holy Saturday, the day before Resurrection Sunday.
This period is always 40 days but excludes Sundays during the fasting. Each Sunday is like a mini-Easter representing a break from fasting each week. Lent falls in the month of March and April, but the exact date will vary each calendar year. Since Easter Sunder is not a set date, the period of Lent is calculated based on the observation of Ash Wednesday.
During Lent, it’s traditional to fast and give up something in your life. It’s debated within some churches how long the fast should be. While many agree that the whole 40 days (minus Sundays) should be a fasting period, others argue that you should only fast once or twice during the Lenten period, usually Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (or Ash Wednesday only).
In the case of a shorter fasting period, individuals replace a fast with something else, such as giving to the poor, charity work, or giving up a luxury for the entirety of Lent. For Catholics, it’s expected to give up meat every Friday of Lent. Others have taken a more personalized approach to self-denial for the 40-day period. This can include giving up a type of food, or an activity of indulgence.
Many churches cover religious symbols, artifacts, and decorations during Lent as well, to solemnly show solidarity for the suffering of Christ. Religious leaders use a crimson cloth to cover the holyart pieces in Catholic churches during Lent.
Fasting and giving up luxuries are not mandatory during Lent. The true reason behind the religious observation is to align yourself with the suffering of Christ and to focus on what He went through in His life, death, burial, and resurrection – the true meaning behind Easter.
Lent and the accompanying practices are not a required part of Christian living, neither is it recognized in all churches. However, it serves to represent for some Christians a way to celebrate and focus on the real purpose for Easter and the spiritual sanctity of the holiday.
Guest Post – Why Do We Fast at Lent? by Naren
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