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What Is Lent?

Ashes and a palm cross with what is lent written in the ashes

What is Lent?

Lent is a period of 40 days leading up to Easter in which participants usually fast or give up a chosen personal pleasure. This abstinence can be anything, such as giving up a type of food or avoiding a bad habit. Some use Lent as a time to start a new positive habit. It is a time to draw closer to God and pray for the strength to resist whatever was given up. So where did this tradition of Lent come from?

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What is the Origin of Lent?

Historians trace the origins of Lent to 325 B.C. when the First Council of Nicaea, a council of Christian churches lead by the Christian emperor Constantine, decreed a period of fasting before the Easter festivities. According to Britannica, it was seen as a time of penitence and a period preparation for those who wanted to be baptized.

What Does “Lent” Mean?

The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word lencten, meaning “spring.” The word is also connected to the Germanic word for “long.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word most likely refers to the lengthening of days during the springtime. Therefore, it is called the Lenten season because it always begins in the spring.

READ MORE: Why Do We Call It Lent?

Family praying together at home for lent
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Who Celebrates Lent?

Lent is observed by various Christian denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, and others. Each sect has its own traditions. For example, many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Some denominations traditionally take a break from fasting on Saturday, Sunday, or both. According to Slate, even some nondenominational churches and nonreligious people participate in the Lenten season.

When is Lent?

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. According to the Catholic faith, Lent comes to a close on the evening of Holy Thursday. The following Sunday is always Easter. Want to know exactly when Lent is this year? Here are the dates of Lent for the next four years:

Year Lent Begins Lent Ends
Lent 2024 Wednesday, February 14, 2024  Thursday, March 28, 2024
Lent 2025 Wednesday, March 5, 2025 Thursday, April 17, 2025
Lent 2026 Wednesday, February 18, 2026 Thursday, April 2, 2026

Why is Lent 40 Days?

The tradition of giving something up for Lent goes back to the New Testament. The period of 40 days is based on the Biblical story of Jesus residing in the wilderness for 40 days. As told in the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke, Jesus spent those 40 days fasting and resisting Satan—this period is commonly referred to the Temptation of Christ.

READ MORE: Is “Lent” in the Bible?

Lent Bible Verses

Turning to the Bible can be a powerful way to draw closer to God during the Lent season. You can let these verses guide your prayers or reflect on them as you take part in your Lenten fast. Here are five Lent Bible verses to inspire you this season:

  1. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. —Matthew 6:16-18
  2. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. —1 Peter 5:6
  3. Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house… —Isaiah 58:6-7
  4. At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. —Mark 1:12-13
  5. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. —Colossians 2:16-17

READ MORE: 20 Lent Bible Verses for Reflection and Guidance

Lent Prayers

In addition to giving something up for Lent, you can also offer your time and intention throughout the Lenten season. Say prayers throughout your day – when you wake up, are on your way to work, or before bed – to bring special meaning to this season. Here are some short prayers to help deepen your connection with God during your Lenten journey.

Morning Prayers for Lent
  1. Dear Lord, as I begin my journey toward spiritual growth, help me to look deep within myself and let go of the old and embrace the new life that comes from you. Amen.
  2. Father, help me to see this holy season of Lent as a time of spiritual renewal, rather than a time of deprivation. Motivate me to reach a new level of experiencing Your grace. Amen.
Evening Prayers for Lent
  1. Heavenly Father, during this Lenten season, give me a new and expanded vision for my life. Help me to live full of faith. Teach me to find hope in the face of adversity. Amen.
  2. For God alone my soul waits in silence; for Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I shall not be greatly moved. Amen. (Psalm 61:1-2)
Short Prayers for Lent
  1. Lord, Jesus Christ, fill me, I pray, with Your light and life. Amen. (Saint Ignatius of Loyola)
  2. May this season of repentance bring us the blessing of Your forgiveness and the gift of Your light. Amen.
  3. As a deer pants for water brooks, so my soul longs for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God… Amen. (Psalm 42:1-2)

READ MORE: 7 One-Word Prayers for Lent 

A wooden cross wrapped in purple ribbon with lent symbols like ashes and palm to show what is lent
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Lent Symbols

There are various symbols associated with the Lenten season. Each of them is steeped in history and tradition. Some of the most recognizable symbols include:

  • The color purple (along with other Lent colors)
  • Ashes (a reference to Ash Wednesday)
  • Jesus’ thorn crown
  • Palms (a reference to Palm Sunday)

READ MORE: How Ashes Became a Symbol of Transformation

Why Do We Give Something Up for Lent?

Christians around the world observe Lent in order to remember the sacrifices Jesus made and participate in the holy act of giving something up for all 40 days (except Sundays). While some traditions focus on fasting, some people choose to abstain from a daily pleasure or habit. Some of the more common Lent practices are:

Woman resisting baked goods during the lent season
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Some people decide to use this time period to incorporate a positive habit or spiritual discipline into the Lenten season. This can include scheduling time for daily prayer, being more environmentally friendly during Lent, or spending more time with family and friends.

According to Guideposts contributor Rick Hamlin, giving something up for Lent is a deeply spiritual practice. “It’s a way of saying to God, ‘I know I’m a physical being with natural wants and desires, but you’ve also made me a spiritual being with wants and desires that you are ready to satisfy,’” he said. “When that urge for [whatever] I’ve given up for Lent comes—as it surely will—I remind myself of what’s most important in my life.”

Lent Terms Glossary

Lent involves different practices, while also taking place during a significantly holy time of year. With so many traditions and dates, it can get a little confusing. Here are some terms it may be helpful for you to know during the Lenten season.

Fasting

Fasting is the act of abstaining from something, whether that is a type of food or a habit or something one enjoys doing. Many people participate in a fast during the Lenten season where they give something up, like meat, chocolate, social media, or complaining.

READ MORE: What to Give Up for Lent: 15 Meaningful Suggestions

Sacrifice

The Lenten season focuses a lot on sacrifice, or the act of giving something up, often for a greater cause. During this time, we remember how Jesus fasted in the wilderness before taking up His ministry and His sacrifice when He was crucified to forgive the sins of humanity.

Almsgiving

Lent is also seen as a season of almsgiving, or the practice of donating to those in need. Some people use the Lenten season to do acts of charity or to give money to organizations that help people.

READ MORE: Create an Action Plan to Do Great Things This Lent

Sabbath

Sabbath is a day of rest that was established by God. For Jewish people, Sabbath starts on Friday night and ends on Saturday evening. For Christians, it is on Sunday. During the Lent season, when people fast or give something up, Sundays don’t count. Instead of focusing on discipline and sacrifice, it is meant to be a day of rest and reflection.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday not only marks the beginning of the Lenten season, but it also signifies a reminder of our mortality and reliance on God. Many denominations attend church and have a cross marked on their forehead with ash. This is traditionally the day people begin their Lenten fast.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday—sometimes called Maundy Thursday or Sheer Thursday—takes place during Holy Week and marks the official end of Lent. It always takes place the Thursday before Easter.

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