Reflection on LENT

Despite all that can but our perception of it secularization, neopagan carnival celebrations, less rigorous penitential observance, etc. for today Christians, lent remains the unparalleled time of the liturgical year. Throughout history, Lent has maintained its powerful orientation and strong emphasies received through various channels from centuries old ecclesial traditional. The history of Lent in the Roman Church can be divided into three main period. The first extended from the end of the third century, or the beginning of the fourth, to the eighth or even to the twelfth century. The second period is that of stabilization, which lasted until the Second Vatican Council. The third began in 1969 with Paul VI’s promulgation of the Missal, Lectionary, and Roman Calendar.   
Lent is the forty days period of fasting and prayer that Christians observe in preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the first three centuries, the period of fasting before Easter varied from a few days to a week. However, the Council of Nicaea in 325 mentioned a period of forty days of preparation, and by the end of the fourth century, a forty – day fast before Easter (called quadragesima in the west) was commonly observed in both the East and the West.
The Lenten fast may have originated in the fast mandated for the candidates preparing for baptism at Easter, and the number forty may have its origin in the forty days fast observed by Moses. According to the law of Moses, there was only one day in the year appointed as a fast day, namely the tenth day of the seventh month,  the day of Atonement (Lev 116:29; 23:27, 32; Num 29:7). Nevertheless, fasting was also practice in the Old Testament times in recognition of some great disaster (Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 7:6, 14:24; 2Sam 12:16; 1kgs 21:12, 27; 2Chr 20:3; Ezra 8: 21; Tob 12:8; Jer 14:12, 36:9; Joel 1:14, 2:15; 1Macc 3:47; 2Macc 13:12), and in times of mourning (Num 30:13; 1kigs 21:27; 1Sam 31:13; 2 Sam 1:12, 3:25, 36). Likewise, private fasts were permitted, although a wife could fast only with her husband’s consent (Num 30:14 – 16). The prophet spoke of the proper spirit in which fasting should be done to make it acceptable to God: it must be an outward sign of real penance and amendment (Isa 58:1 – 6; Jer 14:12; Zech 7:5).
In the New Testament, the Pharisees fasted, as did the disciples of John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33, 18:12). Like the OT prophets before him, Jesus condemned the hypocritical fasting of the Pharisees (Matt 6:19). On the other hand, Jesus himself fasted for forty days before beginning his public ministry (Mtt 4:2), as Moses did before he received the Law (Exodus 34:28; Deut 9:9). While he was with them on earth, Jesus’s disciples did not fast. When questioned on this, Jesus replied that one does not fast while with the Bridegroom, but when the Bridegroom is taken the time of fasting will come (Matt 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:3). Christ also stressed the proper spirit in which we should fast (Matt 6:17-18) and declared the need for prayer and fasting by his disciples in order to be able to expel evil spirits (Matt 17: 20). The apostles did fast before making important decisions and recommended fasting for the spiritual betterment of the Christians (Acts 13:2, 14:22 – 23; 2Cor 6:5, 11:27) (CCC1434, 2043).     

The Eastern and the Western Churches differed as to the computation of the forty days. The East fasted for seven weeks omitting Saturdays (except Holy Saturday) and Sundays resulting in thirty –six days of fasting. The West observed six weeks of fast, but omitted only Sundays, which also amounted to thirty-six fast days in all. However, local customs differed greatly as to the actual observance of the Lenten fast. In the West in the seventh century the period from Ash Wednesday to the First Sunday of Lent was added to the original six weeks, achieving a total of forty days.
Initially the fast was severe, allowing for only one meal each day (to be taken in the evening) and forbidding the consumption of fish and flesh – meat, and in some places even dairy productions. Beginning in the ninth century, however, the fast was relaxed to allow fish and eggs, and the meal was moved up to an earlier part of the day. In the last few centuries meat has been permitted except on Fridays, and the emphasis on the meaning of lent has shifted. For centuries the popular understanding of Lent centered on physical suffering. Vatican Council II (1962 – 1965) shifted the emphasis to the spiritual preparation for the paschal mystery of Easter and broadened the focus to include other forms of penance and increased prayer and works of Charity. The three aspects of Lent: prayer, fasting and Almsgiving, are not ends in themselves but mean to prepare the Christian to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. Lent helps to remind Christians of their sinfulness and the need to return to their baptismal innocence.