Home INTRODUCTION TO THE SEASON OF LENT

INTRODUCTION TO THE SEASON OF LENT

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The English word “Lent” comes from the Anglo–Saxon word lencten, which means “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of "spring." In many other languages, the word used for this season refers to the 40-day length of the season (cuaresma in Spanish and Tagalog, carême in French, quaresima in Italian) or to the fasting that characterizes it (Fastenzeit in German, fastan in Swedish, paasto in Finnish, posta in Russian). The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter.

Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians. The First Sunday describes Jesus' temptation by Satan; and the Sixth Sunday (Passion/Palm Sunday), Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent passion and death. Note that the readings during Lent, until Passion/Palm Sunday, focus primarily on the meaning of baptism and discipleship, in continuity with the season’s original purpose. Because Sundays are always little Easters, the penitential spirit of Lent should be tempered with joyful expectation of the Resurrection.

Holy Week is the final week of Lent, beginning with Passion/Palm Sunday and concluding with Holy Saturday. It is during these days that the readings focus primarily on the last days and suffering and death of Jesus.

The Great Three Days—sometimes called the Triduum or Pasch—from sunset Holy Thursday through sunset Easter Day are the climax of Lent (and of the whole Christian year) and a bridge into the Easter Season. These days proclaim the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ's passion, death, and resurrection. During these days, the community journeys with Jesus from the upper room, to the cross, to the tomb, and to the garden. They should be seen as a great unified service beginning with a service of Holy Communion on Holy Thursday and concluding with the services of Easter Day. These services may be connected with a prayer vigil lasting from Holy Thursday evening (or Good Friday) until the first service of Easter and may be accompanied by fasting.

In addition to the acts and services of worship on the following pages, see the two Great Thanksgivings for Lent in the Book of Worship (earlier and later, pp. 60-61 and 62-63) and the scripture readings for Lent in the lectionary.

Somber colors such as purple or ash gray and rough–textured cloth are most appropriate for paraments, stoles, and banners. Unbleached muslin cloth with red stitching is also appropriate. Remove all shiny objects from the worship area. Some may wish to omit flowers. Other visuals may include a large rough cross (possibly made from the trunk of the Chrismon tree) or a veil over the sanctuary cross.

Visuals for Holy Week may include red paraments, stoles, and banners, and symbols such as perfume, coins, a whip, a crown of thorns, a torn garment, nails, a spear, a sponge, or a broken reed. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday the church may be stripped bare of visuals.

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Note: This article is edited, 2013, by the Discipleship Ministries to offer clarification about the meaning of the term Lent, how this season is designated in other languages and cultures, and the distinctive emphases of Lent and Holy Week (the final week of Lent),

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