The English word Lent is a shortened form of Old English, len(c)ten, which meant ‘spring season’. We can already feel the sun gaining warmth, even in February! In the southern hemisphere, for example in New Zealand, it’s coming into autumn…but the Anglicans there still call it Lent! It lasts for the 40 fasting days (plus Sundays) leading up to Easter.
The Hebrew Scriptures tell the Exodus story of God’s chosen people wandering for 40 years in the wilderness. The Gospels speak of Jesus’ fasting for 40 days in the desert being tempted by the Devil.
(See the Synoptic Gospels: Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). Lent originated as a mirroring of these “forty days and forty nights” as preparation for Easter.
Every Sunday was, and is, seen as a commemoration of the day of Christ’s resurrection and so as a feast day, fasting was unnecessary. Traditionally Lent was the time for the preparation of catechumens, we might say seekers, in advance of their baptism, and so it remains an appropriate time also for the study of scripture and theological reflection.
Lent offers us the opportunity to make significant changes in our lives, even, with God’s help, transformation. Sometimes this process is painful but the results are life-giving, so that we do not return to those habits, actions or attitudes that are destructive but indeed begin a new life, in Christ.
“Return to the Lord, your God” the prophet Joel ‘exhorts’ Return with all your heart…