Why Are There 40 Days to Lent?

 

Lent has 40 days - ever wonder why?

Lent is the 40 day long penitential period in the Catholic Church, immediately prior to the Paschal Feast (Easter) the greatest feast in the Church. The Eastern Catholic churches call this period Great Lent.
 
There is a strong Biblical foundation for observing a 40 day period of penance and/or anticipation. The Scriptures are full of the significance, perhaps known only to God, of the number 40.
 
In the Old Testament, God punished mankind by sending a flood over the earth for 40 days and nights. The people of Nineveh repented of their sins with 40 days of fasting. The Prophet Ezekiel lay on his right side for 40 days as a precursor to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The Prophet Elijah fasted and prayed for 40 days on Mount Horeb. Moses fasted 40 days and nights while on Mount Sinai. Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 penitential years until they entered the Promised Land.
 
In the New Testament, the Lord fasted for 40 days and nights in preparation for the beginning of His public ministry.

 
We model our 40 day season of Lent today on this holy tradition, established throughout Salvation History, the story of God's relationship with humanity. Most importantly we observe these 40 days of Lent  in imitation of Our Lord - the example for us all.
 
Very early in the history of the Church, the practices and duration of Lent became more regulated with the Church Fathers encouraging the practice of the 40 day period of fasting prior to the more intense fasting of Holy Week. By the end of the fourth century, it was well established in the Church that Lent’s duration was 40 days and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.

Unto this very day, we observe 40 days of penitential practices, typically of prayer and fasting because we take Jesus as our model, to prepare ourselves for the Paschal feast, that is, Easter. The Catechism tells us “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catholic Catechism #540).

This article brought to you by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. Written by Mike Davis.

Sources for this article include:

The Church's Year, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, and the Essential Lenten Handbook.

 

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