What is the Purpose of Lent?

After a few short weeks of Ordinary Time, the Church quickly shifts her focus to the season of Lent. The word "Lent" comes from the Old English word len(c)ten, meaning "spring season," and has been used by English speaking countries to denote this part of the Church's year since the Middle Ages. Lent is always during spring in the Northern Hemisphere and reminds the Church of the need for spiritual renewal.

On the other hand, the official word for this season in Latin is, "quadragesima," or simply put, "forty days." The Latin term calls to mind the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert before embarking on His three-year mission of proclaiming the Good News to all people.

Regardless of what we call this penitential season, it is a time of the year when the Church focuses on spiritual preparation for the great feast of Easter. Ever since the early centuries of the Church, there has been a period of time dedicated to prayer, fasting and almsgiving before celebrating Christ's resurrection from the dead.

In the Early Church, Lent was a time of immediate preparation for catechumens who were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. They would perform many spiritual exercises and receive multiple blessings to prepare their hearts for Christ. Eventually similar practices were expanded to the universal Church and everyone was encouraged to use Lent as a time for renewal.

As time progressed, the Church continually went back to the examples of Noah, Moses, and Jesus for inspiration. Noah was asked by God to create an ark to protect him and his family from the rain that would last 40 days and 40 nights. During Lent, the Christian follower is called to fortify themselves in the faith so that they can endure any temptations or trials that come from the outside.

Moses led the people into the desert and because of their infidelity and distrust of God, they were asked to wander the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land. Following this example, we are taught to use Lent as a time for spiritual purification, renouncing their sinful ways and making amends for any past infidelity to God.

As already mentioned above, Jesus Christ freely submitted to being tempted in the desert for 40 days in preparation for his public ministry. We are to follow His example of renouncing the world, flesh and the devil during the time of Lent, so that we are prepared to preach the Gospel of Christ's Resurrection to the whole world.

The Church, in her wisdom, gives us some specific practices to consider during Lent, namely, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. During the next few weeks, we will look at these practice and discover why each is so important to the life of a Christian and central to a fruitful Lent.

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