Gift of Lent to Help Conform us to Christ

Lent is the 40-day, penitential season of preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). The celebration of "Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the culmination of the liturgical year, calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy," explained Pope Francis in his 2019 Lent Message. | lea en español

We partake in Lent with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Holy Father described how these practices bring us joy. Prayer "teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy." Fasting turns us away "from the temptation to 'devour' everything to satisfy our voracity and (be) ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts." And almsgiving gives us an "escape (from) the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us."

When truly embraced, prayer, fasting and almsgiving can help us "rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness."

History and Evolution of Lent

The concept of Lent goes back to the beginning of the Church, but the notion of a 40-day preparation can be traced to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. which used the term, "tessarakoste," meaning “fortieth” in Greek. It is believed the reference was meant to imitate the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before his public ministry as well as the earlier examples of Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-8). 

By the end of the fourth century, a penitential season of 40 days had taken root in the Church. The Latin name for the season was "quadragesima," which means "40 days." The word "lent" is primarily derived from the Old English "lencten," which means "spring." By the ninth century, Anglo-Saxons were using the term to refer to the penitential season before Easter. Over time, the meaning of 40 days became tied to the practice of fasting during Lent. By the fourth century, in most of the West, it referred to the six days’ fast per week for six weeks. (Sundays were excluded.). Today, the rules are more lenient. See our Fasting and Abstinence Guidelines to learn more.

Another key aspect of Lent is its connection to those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process. From the earliest days, Christians associated Lent with the sacrament of baptism, "since Easter was the great baptismal feast." Those who were preparing for baptism participated in Lent as part of their preparation. "Eventually, those who were already baptized considered it important to join these candidates preparing for baptism in their preparation for Easter. The customs and practices of Lent, as we know them today, soon took hold." Today, bishops worldwide personally welcome all those going through RCIA in their dioceses during the Rite of Election, a special service held at the beginning of Lent. Four of these events will be held in the Diocese of Little Rock this year. Visit our calendar to find one near you.

Lenten Resources

We hope the following resources help you get the most from your Lenten journey.

10 Ways to Deepen Experience of Lent

CRS Rice Bowl 2019

Fasting and Abstinence Guidelines

Arkansas Catholic: Lent 2019

Lent FAQ

Lent for Children, Teens and Young Adults

Parish Lenten Activities in Arkansas

Perform Penance through Works of Mercy

Reconcile with God through Confession

Way of the Cross: Stations and Meditations from Arkansas

Welcome the Strangers Among Us