We have reached that time of the year when the Church invites us over the next few weeks to associate ourselves in a special way with Our Lord, as we recall how the opposition to his teaching mounted and he was put to death, and then three days later rose from the dead.
This period, which we know in English as Lent, deriving from the Middle English term meaning ‘day-lengthening’ or springtime, is known in German as Fastenzeit, a time of fasting; in French as carême; Italian as quaresima;and Spanishas cuaresma, these all deriving from the Latin quadragesima, meaning ‘fortieth’.
Put these together and we end up with a definition of Lent as the Church’s traditional period given over to fasting and penance for forty days in the springtime, in preparation for Easter.
In the early Church this was the time preferred for instructing and preparing adult candidates for baptism and receiving them into the body of the faithful at the Easter Vigil. It was also the time of year, before private confession developed, during which grave sinners did penance and were prepared to be reconciled to the Church at Easter.
Gradually this idea of preparation and penance spread to all the faithful, so that Lent became a penitential period for everyone in the Church, in which they renewed themselves spiritually and prepared to celebrate the feast of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.
The forty days were intended to imitate the forty days and nights which we are told Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the desert preparing for his public ministry (Lk 4:1-2). Preceding that were the examples of Elijah and Moses spending forty days in prayer, and also the period of forty years that the people of Israel spent in the Sinai desert as religious refugees from Egypt, being prepared by God to be given the Promised Land.
FULL STORY Keeping Lent with St Luke (Thinking Faith)