By far my favorite season of the Christian liturgical calender. I really get into it. I try to observe most of the fasting traditions, and I take time out for self examination and prayer. I guess it's sort of like what most people say theyre going to do after New Year's with their resolutions. Except a lot better.
Here's a good synopsis I got off the internet somewhere:
Lent in the Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. Most followers of Western Christianity observe Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Saturday. The six Sundays in this period are not counted because each one represents a "mini-Easter," a celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death.
40 Days In The Bible
The number forty has many Biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18); the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); the forty days and nights God sent rain in the great flood of Noah (Genesis 7:4); the forty years the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33); the forty days Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh in which to repent (Jonah 3:4). Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2). He overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and he began his ministry. Jesus further said that his disciples should fast "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them" (Matthew 9:15), a reference to his Passion. Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial. It is the traditional belief that Jesus lay for forty hours in the tomb which led to the forty hours of total fast that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church (the biblical reference to 'three days in the tomb' is understood as spanning three days, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, rather than three 24 hour periods of time).
There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.
No Alleluia's In The Liturgy: (My Anglican Church Does This...)
In the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service, and Anglican Eucharist, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is not sung during the Lenten season, disappearing on Ash Wednesday and not returning until the moment of the Resurrection during the Easter Vigil. On major feast days, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is recited, but this in no way diminishes the penitential character of the season; it simply reflects the joyful character of the Mass of the day in question. It is also used in the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Likewise, the Alleluia is not sung during Lent; it is replaced before the Gospel reading by a seasonal acclamation. In the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite omission of the Alleluia begins with Septuagesima. In the Byzantine Rite, the Gloria (Great Doxology) continues to be used in its normal place in the Matins service, and the Alleluia appears all the more frequently, replacing "God is the Lord" at Matins.
The last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide. All statues (and in England paintings as well) in the church were traditionally veiled in violet, and according to the rubrics should continue to be so. This was seen to be in accordance with the Gospel of that Sunday (John 8:46-59), in which Jesus “hid himself” from the people. The veils were removed at the singing of the Gloria during the Easter Vigil.
Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while others will permit fish, others permit fish and fowl, others prohibit fruit and eggs, and still others eat only bread. In some places, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal each day, while others abstained from all food until 3 o'clock. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without vegetables or alcohol was eaten. During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs and dairy products were generally forbidden. Thomas Aquinas argued that "they afford greater pleasure as food [than fish], and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust." In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstinence from all animal products including fish, eggs, fowl and milk sourced from animals (e.g. goats and cows as opposed to the milk of soy beans and coconuts) is still commonly practiced, meaning only vegetarian meals are consumed in many Eastern countries for the entire fifty-five days of their Lent. In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditional to abstain from meat from mammals and fowl on Ash Wednesday and every Friday for the duration of Lent, although dairy products are still permitted.
Holy Days During Lent
1) Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity.
2) The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday marks the beginning of Passiontide.
3) The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter.
4) Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him.
5) Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples.
6) Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus' crucifixion and burial.
Is that awesome or what? I'm pumped. There's a part of me that likes the rigorous challenge of living an ascetic existence, at least for a little while. I've always daydreamed about becoming a monk and devoting my life to study and prayer. That will never happen, but during Lent I get a taste of it, and I get to see if I'm cut out to make sacrifices for my beliefs.
Anyway...time for prayer and bed. Ash Wednesday is in two days. Woot!