Have you participated in the Lenten tradition but would like to know more about its history? OR, have you heard about it but don’t know what the fuss is about? OR, are you reading this and thinking, “What in the world is the Lenten season?”
Whichever one fits you, I’m here to give you a quick overview on the history of this tradition. Additionally, I want to share some great Lenten blogs for your viewing pleasure. Hopefully, by the time you’re done, you’ll be able to have an intelligent discussion about the tradition and appreciate why many Christians throughout the world honor Lent.
First of all, it is one of the oldest traditions in the Christian Church. We first hear about it from Irenaeus, a Christian writer who lived during the second century. During Irenaeus’ time, the observance of fasting and prayer lasted 2-3 days and was used to prepare new believers for baptism (or their admittance into the Church).
Lent eventually developed into a 40 day, church-wide tradition as the whole community prayed and fasted for the new believers. At the same time, Christians who were already baptized prepared to renew their promises to God at Easter. (In case you don’t know, Easter is the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection after his death on the cross). The Lenten season covers the 40 days before Easter, plus or minus Sundays depending on which Christian tradition a person follows.
The early Lenten practices were strict and serious. Only one meal was eaten a day, near the evening. No meat, fish, or animal products were eaten. Gradually, Lenten practices relaxed in the Roman Catholic Church. First, congregants were allowed to eat after 3 p.m. By the 1400s, people could eat after noon. Eventually, various foods (like fish) were allowed to be eaten at any time. In 1966, the Roman Catholic Church restricted fast days to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, Lenten practices in the Orthodox Church are still quite strict. Protestant denominations vary a great deal on how they practice Lent. Some, like the Episcopalian Church, closely observe Lenten practices while others hardly recognize it at all.
So, that’s my quick “scoop” on Lent! If you want to learn more or read great material from people who observe Lent, please check out these favorite blogs of mine:
The Outpatient Monk: Doug’s writing is absolutely beautiful and thought provoking, and his posts on Lent aren’t any different.
Rachel Held Evans’ post, 40 Ideas for Lent 2015.
Annie F. Downs’ post, I love Lent.
OnFaith Voices’ post, How Lent Can Help You Reconcile Faith and Doubt.
V3 Movement’s post, Stations of the Cross–A Practice During Lent
Photo by Mike Kline