What is Lent?
Historically, Lent is the 40-day period before Easter, which the Church uses to prepare for the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
When does Lent begin?
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is the day on which the faithful have their foreheads signed with ashes in the form of a Cross. It ends at noon on Holy Saturday. The 40 days excludes the five Sundays of Lent.
Why is Lent forty days long?
Because 40 days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible. Moses stayed on the Mountain of God 40 days (Exodus 24:18, 34:28), Elijah traveled 40 days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kings 19:8), Nineveh was given 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4), and most importantly, prior to undertaking His ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness praying and fasting (Matthew 4:2). He also spent 40 weeks in His mother’s womb.
Since Lent is a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting for Christians to imitate their Lord with a 40-day period. Christ used a 40-day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for His ministry, which culminated in His death and resurrection, and thus it is fitting for Christians to imitate Him with a 40-day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of His ministry’s climax, Good Friday (His crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (His Resurrection).
Why do Catholics have their foreheads marked with a cross on Ash Wednesday?
Because in the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the Sign of a Cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, Who died on a Cross. This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil, and made a servant of righteousness and Christ (Romans 6:3-18). It is also in imitation of the way the righteous are described in the book of Revelation: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.” (Revelation 7:3)
What is a day of fast and abstinence?
Under current canon law in the Western Rite of the Church, a day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast. In this country, one may eat a single, normal meal and have two snacks, so long as these snacks do not add up to a second meal. Children are not required to fast, but their parents must ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting. Those with medical conditions requiring a greater or more regular food intake can easily be dispensed from the requirement of fasting by their pastor. A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years or older are required to abstain from eating meat.