540 ... "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" [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.
Lent is the 40-day period (Sundays excluded) prior to Easter, which the church observes as a penitential season. It begins on Ash Wednesday (which can occur any time between February 4 and March 11, depending upon the date of Easter), and it concludes with the Passiontide, the two-week period during which the church's liturgy follows Christ's activity closely through the final stages of his life on earth. These two weeks are called Passion Week and Holy Week. It was once claimed that the Lenten practice was of apostolic origin, but historians fix its establishment at a later date, probably the 5th century. Catholics are required to fast and are urged to adopt other penitential modes during the season.
Lent is the period of six and one half weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. During Lent, for 40 days, excluding Sundays, fasting is recommended for all Catholics according to the laws of fast. This is reminiscent of the 40 days of our Lord's unbroken fast (Mt. 4:3-4). The entire period of Lent is also a time of spiritual preparation for the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is observed as a time of penitence other than fasting, and as a time of prayer. The Liturgy of the Church reflects the significance of this period of spiritual preparation: each day has a special Mass assigned to it; those Masses date back to the seventh and eighth centuries; there are no feasts observed on Sundays; purple vestments are the daily color...It [Ash Wednesday] was established as the first day of Lent by [Pope] St. Gregory the Great (590 to 604).
The reasons for celebrating our major feasts when we do are many and varied. In general, however, it is true that many of them have at least an indirect connection with the pre-Christian [pagan] feasts celebrated about the same time of year -- feasts centering around the harvest, the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice (now Dec. 21, but Dec. 25 in the old Julian calendar), the renewal of nature in spring, and so on.
The observance of Lent dates back to the Apostles.MYTH ... In the fifth century, some Fathers claimed that Lent was of apostolic institution, but the claim is doubtful. From the earliest Christian times everyone agreed that a penitential season should preceed the solemnities of Easter, but for at least three centuries there was no agreement over how long that should be. Saint Irenaeus, writing around the year 190, clued to the diversity of opinion, saying: "some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while other reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast." Apparently he knew nothing about any Lent or pre-Easter fast of forty days, else he would have mentioned it.In the fourth century Saint Athanasius enjoined the people of Alexandria to observe a forty day period of fasting prior to Easter, indicating that this was the mode now practiced throughout Christendom." ... [W]hile all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing stock as the only people who do not fast but take pleasure in those days." Athanasius wrote. The year was 339, and Athanasius was recently back from a trip to Europe, including Rome.Some sources allege that the forty-day Lent was not known in the West until the time of Saint Ambrose (c339-397). The date of Athanasius' letter would seem to negate that theory.So, no, our Lent does not date from the time of the Apostles. But apparently it was observed before the year 339. That's early enough.
"It ought to be known," said Cassianus, the monk of Marseilles, writing in the fifth century, and contrasting the primitive Church with the Church in his day, "that the observance of the forty days had no existence, so long as the perfection of that primitive Church remained inviolate."
Many Christians had already reserved a period prior to Easter for fasting, confession, and schooling candidates for baptism on Easter Eve. But the time frame was never fixed, rules never formalized. Different groups of Christians followed different customs -- some fasted for several days, others several weeks. Some observed a total fast for exactly forty days (minus the Lord's day, Sunday), a feast called Quadragesima, which would evolve into Lent.Thus, by mid-fourth century, the duration of Lent -- the word itself means "lengthening spring days," from the Indo-European langat-tin, "long"+ "day" -- became more or less fixed at forty days, less Sundays; the time frame did not become official, though, until the eighth century.In the Western Church today, Lent begins six and a half weeks before Easter, providing forty fast days when Sundays are excluded. In the Eastern Church, however, Lent begins eight weeks before Easter, since fasting is excluded on Saturdays and Sundays. Today, too, a fast can be as slight an inconvenience as abstaining from chocolate or ice cream for the duration. A token fast.
Whence, then, came this observance? The forty days abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess [Astarte / Ishtar]. Such a Lent of forty days, "in the spring of the year," is still observed by the Yezidis or Pagan Devil-worshippers of Koordistan, who have inherited it from their early masters, the Babylonians.Such a Lent of forty days was held in spring by the Pagan Mexicans, for thus we read in Humboldt, where he gives account of Mexican observances: "Three days after the vernal equinox .... began a solemn fast of forty days in the honour of the sun."Such a Lent of forty days was observed in Egypt, as may be seen on consulting Wilkinson's Egyptians.Among the Pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensible preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz, which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing, and which, in many countries, was considerably later than the Christian festival, being observed in Palestine and Assyria in June, therefore called the "month of Tammuz;" in Egypt, about the middle of May, and in Britain, some time in April. To conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and Pagan festivals amalgamated, and, by a complicated but skillful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter, in general, to get Paganism and Christianity -- now far sunk in idolatry -- in this as in so many other things, to shake hands.Originally, even in Rome, Lent, with the preceding revelries of the Carnival, was entirely unknown; and even when fasting before the Christian Pasch was held to be necessary, it was by slow steps that, in this respect, it came to conform with the ritual of Paganism. What may have been the period of fasting in the Roman Church before the sitting of the Nicene Council does not very clearly appear, but for a considerable period after that Council, we have distinct evidence that it did not exceed three weeks. The words of Socrates, writing on this very subject, about A.D. 450, are these: "Those who inhabit the princely city of Rome fast together before Easter three weeks, excepting the Saturday and Lord's day." But at last, when the worship of Astarte was rising into the ascendant, steps were taken to get the whole Chaldean Lent of six weeks, or forty days, made imperative on all within the Roman empire of the West. The way was prepared for this by a Council held at Aurelia in the time of Hormisdas, Bishop of Rome [514-523], about the year 519, which decreed that Lent should be solemnly kept before Easter. It was with the view, no doubt, of carrying out this decree that the calendar was, a few days after, readjusted by Dionysius.
Legend has it that Tammuz was killed by a wild boar when he was forty years old. Hislop points out that forty days--a day for each year Tammuz had lived on earth -- were set aside to "weep for Tammuz." In olden times these forty days were observed with weeping, fasting, and self chastisement -- to gain anew his favor -- so he would come forth from the underworld and cause spring to begin. This observance was known not only at Babylon, but also among the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Mexicans, and, for a time, even among the Israelites.
Ezek 8:14-16 Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD'S house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. (15) Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. (16) And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.
2 Ki 23:5 And he [King Josiah] put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
2 Ki 23:11-13 And he [King Josiah] took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathanmelech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire. (12) And the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, did the king beat down, and brake them down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. (13) And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.
Would you give up Christ for Lent?