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"The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open."[1]



The English word "Lent" comes from the same root as "lengthen." Lent is the time of lengthening daylight — it's spring time both seasonally and spiritually.


  • The rain that caused Noah's flood lasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
  • Moses fasted for 40 days: "So Moses was there with the LORD for forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water, and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words" (Exodus 34:28; emphasis added).
  • Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years.
  • Elijah fasted for 40 days (1 Kgs 19:8).
  • Jonah foretold that Nineveh would be destroyed after 40 days.
  • Jesus fasted for 40 days.
  • Jesus ascended into Heaven 40 days after the Resurrection.
"Typological Numbers: Taking a Count of the Bible," by Maureen A. Tilley (Bible Review, December 1992?, 48-9)
  • "Forty" and "fortieth" appear 120 times in the Bible.
  • "As the product of four times ten, it took on the qualities of stability (represented by four — the legs of a table, the corners of the earth) prolonged and fulfilled (represented by ten, a complete number). It was therefore a number of tense and anxious waiting and of fulfillment. Seven forties was the span of pregnancy's days. For 40 nights of every year the Pleiades, familiar guiding stars, disappeared, provoking wonder and fear.
  • "In the Bible as well, 40 served as the number of fulfillment. The completion of a full life was 40 years, and old age was considered double 40 (Acts 4:22, Psalm 90:1)."
  • "In all these uses, the precise count of 40 mattered less than indicating to the audience a good long time, more than a month (30 days) or a generation (30 years). . . . The emphasis is not on a specific time but on time enough for a change."

Patristic Era

Catechumens prepared for Baptism at Easter time by fasting and praying for 40 days.

"'Put on the Garments of Christ': Cyril ofJerusalem and the Origins of Lent."
In the Spring of 347, Cyril of Jerusalem delivered a series of teachings to the catechumens of Jerusalem. In the introduction to these lectures, Cyril told his auditors, “This charge I give you, before Jesus the Bridegroom of souls come in ... A long notice is allowed you; you have forty days for repentance” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, “Prologue” 4).

How many days in Lent?

"Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: 'For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.' By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert" (CCC, 540).

There are several different ways to count 40 days. In this table, I skip the Sundays during Lent on the theory that "every Sunday is a little Easter." The period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (inclusive) then numbers 40 days.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Lent suggests that this is how Ash Wednesday became the first day of Lent.

Sun 1st Sunday 2nd Sunday 3rd Sunday Laetare Sunday 5th Sunday Palm / Passion Sunday Easter
Mon 5 11 17 23 29 35
Tue 6 12 18 24 30 36
Wed Ash Wednesday 1 7 13 19 25 31 37
Thu 2 8 14 20 26 32 Holy Thursday 38
Fri 3 9 15 21 27 33 Good Friday 39
Sat 4 10 16 22 28 34 Holy Saturday 40

The Eastern Churches begin Lent on Clean Monday and end it on Holy Thursday.
Sun 1st Sunday 2nd Sunday 3rd Sunday 4th Sunday 5th Sunday Palm / Passion Sunday Easter
Mon Clean Monday 1 7 13 19 25 31 37
Tue 2 8 14 20 26 32 38
Wed 3 9 15 21 27 33 39
Thu 4 10 16 22 28 34 Holy Thursday 40
Fri 5 11 17 23 29 35 Good Friday
Sat 6 12 18 24 30 36 Holy Saturday

Jimmy Akin has settled the question for me. He shows that in our present liturgical calendar, there are 44 days of Lent, counting Sundays and Ash Wednesday, ending on Holy Thursday with the beginning of the Triduum. He reasons from the definition of "Lent" given in "General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar": "Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive."

Sun 1st Sunday — 5 2nd Sunday — 12 3rd Sunday — 19 Laetare Sunday — 26 5th Sunday — 33 Palm / Passion Sunday — 40 Easter
Mon 6 13 20 27 34 41
Tue 7 14 21 28 35 42
Wed Ash Wednesday 1 8 15 22 29 36 43
Thu 2 9 16 23 30 37 Holy Thursday — 44
Fri 3 10 17 24 31 38 Good Friday
Sat 4 11 18 25 32 33 Holy Saturday

Fast and abstinence

American Catholic.
Fasting as explained by the U.S. bishops means partaking of only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted at breakfast and around midday or in the evening — depending on when a person chooses to eat the main or full meal.
Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.
Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard. Even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning"

Crocodiles, lizards, and snakes

Compendii Theologiae Moralis (Sabetti-Barrett) n. 331
Nomine carnis veniunt omnia animalia in terra viventia ac respirantia, ut communiter admittunt theologi ex regula tradita a S. Thoma vel, ut S. Alphonsus innuit, n. 1011, animalia quae sanguinem habent calidum; vel illud quod consuetudo regionis ut carnem habet; vel, si nec consuetudo praesto sit, dubium solvi potest considerando mentem Ecclesiae in sanciendo delectu ciborum, ut comprimendae ac minuendae carnis concupiscentiae per salutarem abstinetiam consuleret; examinetur, an huiusmodi animal simile sit aut dissimile iis quorum esus interdictus est et an illius carnes humano corpori validius nutriendo et roborando idoneae dignoscantur; et si ita appareat, ista caro inter vetitas est ponenda. Benedict XIV., De syn. dioec., lib.11, c. 5, n. 12. Haec quatuor multum deservient omni dubitationi solvendae.
Crocodrilli et lacertae inter reptilia sunt et amphibia.[2]

Fish Tales

"Lust, Lies And Empire: The Fishy Tale Behind Eating Fish On Friday."
Fish fasting days became central to the growth of the global fishing industry. But not because of a pope and his secret pact.
After Henry became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive. The king broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, declared himself the head of the Church of England and divorced his wife so he could marry Anne. Suddenly, eating fish had become political. Fish was seen as a " 'popish flesh' that lost favour as fast as Anglicism took root," as Kate Colquhoun recounts in her book Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking.
Fishermen were hurting. So much so that when Henry's young son, Edward VI, took over in 1547, fast days were reinstated by law — "for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh, and use fish, for the benefit of the commonwealth, where many be fishers, and use the trade of living."
As one economic analysis noted, U.S. fish prices plummeted soon after Pope Paul VI loosened fasting rules in the 1960s.
  • Michael Foley, Why Do Catholics Eat Fish On Friday?
Technically, it's the flesh of warmblooded animals that's off limits — an animal "that, in a sense, sacrificed its life for us, if you will," explains Michael Foley, an associate professor at Baylor University and author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish On Friday?
Fish are coldblooded, so they're considered fair game. "If you were inclined to eat a reptile on Friday," Foley tells The Salt, "you could do that, too."
  • Brian Fagan, Fish on Friday.

Friday after Thanksgiving

"The Friday after Thanksgiving Day indult ... "
A friendly and tasty reminder that there is a strong argument to be made that there is no required abstinence from meat this Friday.
While always a topic of great discussion, it is a fact that Pope Pius XII granted Americans a dispensation from their Friday abstinence, so that they may enjoy turkey the Friday after Thanksgiving. I say "enjoy" turkey because that is truly the only reason he would have granted it — the arguments over refrigeration and whether meat would spoil don't hold water since wide-spread, in-home refrigeration (as well as cable TV) actually did exist in the 1950s.
So eat your turkey this Friday and give great thanks to a merciful God for all that we have to be thankful for. And, while you're at it, thank and pray for Pope Pius XII before you dive into that turkey, that he may be canonized a saint soon.

Warming up for Lent

"How St. Gregory the Great Prepared the Church for Lent."
  • Septuagesima Sunday: "seventieth" day before Easter
  • Sexagesima Sunday: "sixtieth" day before Easter
  • Quinquagesima Sunday: "fiftieth" day before Easter
  • Quadragesima: "fortieth"

Removing Holy Water During Lent

Holy Water should not be removed from the fonts during the whole of Lent; it is removed from Good Friday until Easter Sunday.

Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship responding to this question on 3/14/03
Prot. N. 569/00/L [emphasis added]
Dear Father:
This Congregation for Divine Worship has received your letter sent by fax in which you ask whether it is in accord with liturgical law to remove the Holy Water from the fonts for the duration of the season of Lent.
This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:
1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.
2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of ... of her sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The “fast” and “abstinence” which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).
Hoping that this resolves the question with every good wish and kind regard, I am,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Mons. Mario Marini


Lent is one of the greatest successes of Catholic culture. People love to get ashes on Ash Wednesday. Making sacrifices for Lent causes us to be mindful of God in our day-to-day life. All healthy adult Catholics are required to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent and to fast as well as abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Lent is a time to repent of sin and to repair the wrong we have done (AA: "making amends"). We do not repent or make reparation alone, as if our will-power could make God love us; we repent and make reparation because we see how much God has loved us in sending His only Son to be our Savior (Jn 3:16).

Lent is not so much something that we do for God, but something that He does for us. He does not send us off alone to renovate our hearts. He foots the bill, and He works beside and within us to convict us of sin and to show us how to mend our hearts and our lives.

God does not shame us because we are sinful, weak, corrupt, and lost in sin. He is Emmauel, God-with-us. Like a mother changing her baby's diaper, He sees that we need to be washed clean and clothed in fresh garments. God alone is the changer of hearts, and He is not stingy with what we need. There is and should be an element of sorrow for our sins in this season, but salvation, not sin, has the last word. Let us rejoice in God's mercy even as we acknowledge how much we need it to cleanse us and make us whole.

Preface I of Lent [emphasis added]

For by your gracious gift each year
your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure,
so that, more eagerly intent on prayer
and on the works of charity,
and participating in the mysteries
by which they have been reborn,
they may be led to the fullness of grace
that you bestow on your sons and daughters.


  1. Aposticha, Vespers on Wednesday of Cheesefare Week. The Lenten Triodion:Supplementary Texts. Tr. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (Monastery of the Veil, Bussy-en-Othe, France, 1979), p. 25.
  2. "QUAERITUR: Abstinentia de carne lacertina aut crocodrillina."


Ash Wednesday seems to have been set as the beginning of Lent before the eighth century. Sundays were not fast days, and the current definition of Lent as from Ash Wednesday to the celebration of the Lord's supper was not in use. Beginning on Ash Wednesday gave 40 days of fasting, not counting the Sundays.