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What is Lent and why is it celebrated?

Lent is the liturgical season of "preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful, through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices" (General Instruction of the Roman Calendar).

In 2022, Lent begins on March 2 (Ash Wednesday) and ends on April 14 (Holy Thursday), as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins. Easter Sunday is April 17.

LENT

What are the 40 days of Lent?

What began as a shorter time of preparing catechumens for baptism at the Easter Vigil, expanded over the centuries to 40 days of penitence, excluding Sundays. Lent began on Ash Wednesday and ended when the Easter Vigil began. Today the Season of Lent is a little less than 40 days, the Church having designated the three days from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday to the Vespers (Evening Prayer) of Easter Sunday as a Sacred Triduum (3 days), celebrating the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. While the development of the Lenten days was various throughout the Church, it may have been suggested by Christ laying in death for 40 hours, or by his 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert (a number itself reminiscent of Israel’s 40 years in the desert for disbelieving God). Regarding the connection to Christ’s own life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning” [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC 540)

“Lent is a season of intense prayer, fasting, and concern for those in need. It offers all Christians an opportunity to prepare for Easter by serious discernment about their lives, with particular attention to the word of God which enlightens the daily journey of all who believe.” - St. John Paul II

What is traditionally given up for Lent?

Since Lent is a time of penitence it is usual to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, both to appeal for the grace of personal conversion, and to strengthen our will to be able to cooperate with that grace. The two go together, since without God we can do nothing (John 15:5). The best sacrifice we can make is to give up sinning. The liturgies of the first days of Lent make this point of the vanity of prayer and penitence without moral conversion. For the Catholic, daily examinations of conscience, more frequent Confession, as well as more frequent Mass and Holy Communion, to the extent possible during the pandemic, are especially good ways to prepare for Easter. It would also be good to read Sacred Scripture, pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Holy Rosary, daily if possible, mediating on the texts or prayers. It is also usual to make some material sacrifice, one that calls for will-power and self-denial, whether television or social media, foods or treats we particularly like, recreations and other pleasures that we crave in excess, and which keep us from prayer and good works. The extra time can then be spent to pray and to serve, whether to volunteer at one’s parish, or a local charity, such as a ministry to the poor or a crisis pregnancy clinic. St. Catherine of Genoa said, “Lenten fasts make me feel better, stronger, and more active than ever.” Lent should help us to be more active, in Charity — in love of God, and our neighbor. That is the best preparation for the celebration of the greatest act of Love in history.


Is Lent in the Bible?

While Lent is not mentioned, per se, Jesus’ 40 days of preparation in the Judean desert for His public ministry gives the Church a strong biblical basis for her Lenten practices. Our Lord fasted and prayed during those weeks, as well as faced, and overcame, the temptations of the Evil One. We are called during Lent to imitate His resolve.


What does it mean to deny yourself?

Mother Angelica put it this way, “When you do penance for Lent, you imitate Jesus, and secondly you strengthen your will so when something sinful comes your way, you can say no. See, there’s a two-fold advantage to doing penance. Real penance, not giving up candy for goodness sakes. . . . If you gave something up that costs you, not money, but something in here, then by the end of Lent you’re stronger. Your will is stronger to say no to more important things.” Mother Angelica Live, March 7, 2000

“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” – St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Why did Jesus go into the desert?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 538-540) teaches, The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him “until an opportune time.” The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel's vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil's conqueror: he "binds the strong man" to take back his plunder. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.

“May Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, lead us to ever deeper knowledge of the dead and Risen Christ, help us in the spiritual combat against sin, and sustain us as we pray with conviction: ‘Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster’—‘Convert us to you, O God, our salvation.’” - Pope Benedict XVI