Lent 101

on April 30, 2012

Beliefnet.com explains Lent as "a penitential season observed by many Christians." It encompasses the 40 days leading up to Easter, the most sacred of Christian holidays, and begins on Ash Wednesday, occurring in either February or March. The week leading up to Easter, beginning the prior Sunday, is known as Holy Week by Christians who participate in Lent.

What is required for Lent? During the 40 days of lent, Christians purify themselves through prayer, fasting, repentance and sacrifice. A common practice for Lent is giving up something of importance during that 40-day period.

Why 40 days? The 40 days of Lent is symbolic of two important Biblical events. The first involves the Israelites in the Old Testament, led by Moses, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. The second is a reference to Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, at which point he was tempted by Satan.

Who observes Lent? Although Lent is often associated with the Catholic Church, its observance includes other Christian churches as well. In many Protestant churches, evangelical denominations and independent churches, however, Lent is not observed. Almost all Christian churches do celebrate Easter.

What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, worshippers attend church and receive ashes on their foreheads. The ashes come from burned Palms from Palm Sunday — part of Holy Week — and are blessed by a priest or pastor. Ashes are symbolic of humility and are an open declaration of devotion to God.

What is Palm Sunday? Palm Sunday takes place during the last Sunday of Lent before Easter Sunday and marks the beginning of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, Christians commemorate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Calling it Palm Sunday originates with the Biblical account of believers greeting Jesus' entry into the city by the waving of palm leaves.

When does Lent end? Lent officially ends on the Thursday before Easter with the Easter weekend beginning on Good Friday. On Good Friday, Christians commemorate the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and his dying on the cross.

Found in: Traditions