Lent is a forty-day (excluding Sundays) period of fasting, repentance and spiritual discipline in the Christian calendar, observed by many denominations including the Anglican Church. The word Lent derives from lencten, an Old English term meaning spring.
The origins of Lent can be traced back to the early Christian Church. In the early centuries, Lent was primarily observed as a period of preparation for baptism. Catechumens, or those who were preparing for baptism, would undergo a period of instruction and formation in the Christian faith, culminating in their baptism at the Easter Vigil.
Over time, the observance of Lent expanded beyond just preparation for baptism. It became a season of repentance and spiritual discipline for all Christians, not just catechumens. The length of Lent has varied throughout history. In some Christian traditions, it was observed for only a few days, while in others, it lasted for several weeks. It wasn’t until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD that the duration of Lent was standardized at forty days, to reflect the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
In the Anglican Church, one of the key observances of Lent is the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season. The ashes are made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday and symbolize repentance and humility. The priest marks the forehead of each worshipper with the sign of the cross in ashes, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Throughout Lent, Anglicans may also choose to fast or abstain from certain foods, or activities, to deepen their spiritual focus and self-discipline. The Book of Common Prayer contains important liturgical services for Anglicans during Lent, as well as special prayers and readings for the season.
The final week of Lent, known as Holy Week, holds special significance as well. It begins with Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, where Jesus established the sacrament of Holy Communion. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, and Holy Saturday is a solemn day of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter.
In summary, Lent is a period of deep reflection, self-discipline, repentance, giving, and fasting in which we prepare for the celebration of Easter and strive to deepen our relationship with God.