The Universal Church has begun the Season of Lent which can be also called as the Season of Spring. The Word ‘Lent’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘Lencten’ which means “spring” and ‘Lenctentid’ which literally means not only “Springtide” but also was the word for “March,” the month in which the majority of Lent falls. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II stated, “The two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent are the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it and penance which should be given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis. It is by means of them that the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God’s word more frequently and devote more time to prayer” (No. 109). Lent is a special time of Prayer, Penance, Sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.
For anything that has to take place precedes with a preparation so also for the celebration of the Easter. Since the earliest times of the Church we have got ample of evidences for the Lenten preparation of Easter. St. Irenaeus the Church father wrote to Pope St. Victor I, commenting on the celebration of Easter and the differences between practices in the East and the West: “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers” (Eusebius, History of the Church). The History of the Church says that Lent became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine in A.D 313. St. Athanasius in his “Festal Letters” implored his congregation to make a 40-day fast prior to the more intense fasting of Holy Week. St. Cyril of Alexandria in his series of “Festal Letters” also noted the practices and duration of Lent, emphasizing the 40-day period of fasting. Finally, Pope St. Leo (461) preached that the faithful must “fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the 40 days”. One can safely conclude that by the end of the 4th century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.
Now, it would be good for us to know the importance of the number 40. The number “40” has always had a special spiritual significance regarding preparation.
1. The Book of Exodus 34:28 denotes its specialty wherein we see the fasting of Moses for 40 days and nights in preparation to receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
2. As a preparation to enter to the promised land the Israelites had to journey for 40 years through the desert
3. The Book of IKings 19:8 explains the incident of Prophet Elijah who walked 40 days and nights to the “Mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb (another name for Sinai).
4. Very specially we can see Jesus who fasted for 40 days and nights as a preparation for His public ministry in Mathew 4:2.
So, the Quadragesima (the forty days) was originally a period marked by fasting, but not necessarily a period in which the faithful fasted every day. Now, the preparation of Lent for you and for me is a preparation very much necessary so that we prepare for the festival for the triumphant resurrection of Our Blessed Lord; and secondly, of preparation for that personal share in His victory over sin and hell, which we all, with God’s blessing, hope to have when time is ended. Our Holy Mother Church prepares every child of hers so that, the solemn words, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shall return” echo in our ears as a channel of grace. God in his great mercy has given us this holy season of Lent and has let one another day of salvation in order to claim heaven. During this holy season the Church pours forth her acquired graces from her Bride groom to all its members. Let us not waste this amazing opportunity of blessings. Let us with a humble heart and repentant souls submit ourselves to Him who is waiting eagerly for the return of that lost sheep whom he loves a lot. May our Fasting, Prayers and Almsgiving be acceptable to Him who is the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer of this beautiful Universe. May these preparations not become merely an external rituals but rather an internal disposition for the Season of Spring.
“Lent invites us, through the traditional practices of the Christian life, to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbor, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and alms-giving.”
(Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2013).
Have a wonderful season of Lent