Pondering Lent




I usually do not pay much attention to Lent. I was raised in a Southern Baptist environment. Lent was not even really ever a topic of conversation much less observed. With that in mind I have been doing a little online reading in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days’ fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season.

Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima,Spanish cuaresma), meaning the “forty days”, or more literally the “fortieth day”. This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste(fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times. This etymology, as we shall see, is of some little importance in explaining the early developments of the Easter fast.

But the best modern scholars are almost unanimous in rejecting this view, for in the existing remains of the first three centuries we find both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and also a gradual process of development in the matter of its duration. The passage of primary importance is one quoted by Eusebius (Church History V.24) from a letter of St. Irenaeus to Pope Victor in connection with the Easter controversy. There Irenaeus says that there is not only a controversy about the time of keeping Easter but also regarding the preliminary fast. “For”, he continues, “some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast“. He also urges that this variety of usage is of ancient date, which implies that there could have been no Apostolic tradition on the subject. Rufinus, who translated Eusebius into Latin towards the close of the fourth century, seems so to have punctuated this passage as to make Irenaeus say that some people fasted for forty days. Formerly some difference of opinion existed as to the proper reading, but modern criticism (e.g., in the edition of Schwartz commissioned by the Berlin Academy) pronounces strongly in favor of the text translated above. We may then fairly conclude that Irenaeus about the year 190 knew nothing of any Easter fast of forty days.

This is just a little info… and from it we can see that Lent is a tradition… and that is it. It is not required, nor requested, by our LORD God to observe it… not in history… not in His Word. With that in mind, those who choose not to observe it have no need to concern themselves with whether or not they are shirking from any religious deed that would bring pleasure to our Savior.

Another interesting thing I read from the Catholic Encyclopedia

But the ordinary rule on fasting days was to take but one meal a day and that only in the evening, while meat and, in the early centuries, wine were entirely forbidden. During Holy Week, or at least on Good Friday it was common to enjoin the xerophagiæ, i.e., a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables.

Moreover, at a somewhat later date, Bede tells us of Bishop Cedda, that during Lent he took only one meal a day consisting of “a little bread, a hen’s egg, and a little milk mixed with water” (Church History III.23), while Theodulphus of Orleans in the eighth century regarded abstinence from eggs, cheese, and fish as a mark of exceptional virtue. None the less St. Gregory writing to St. Augustine of England laid down the rule, “We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs.” This decision was afterwards enshrined in the “Corpus Juris”, and must be regarded as the common law of the Church. Still exceptions were admitted, and dispensations to eat “lacticinia” were often granted upon condition of making a contribution to some pious work. These dispensations were known in Germany as Butterbriefe, and severalchurches are said to have been partly built by the proceeds of such exceptions. One of the steeples of Rouen cathedral was for this reason formerly known as the Butter Tower. This general prohibition of eggs and milk during Lent is perpetuated in the popular custom of blessing or making gifts of eggs at Easter,

Well, there. Now you know a reason why we share eggs at Easter 🙂

On a more serious note, as I pondered the fast, and read “But the ordinary rule on fasting days was to take but one meal a day and that only in the evening,…” I thought how very much sense that did make. Fasting only at the evening meal. If we fast for breakfast or lunch… we fast knowing that the next meal is coming soon… but if we fast our evening meal we fast knowing that we will go to bed hungry. This fast seems truer to me.

Now as I pondered whether or not I would personally observe Lent this year I first thought of foods I could give up for the coming forty days… As I thought food, I also thought, oooo I wonder how much weight I will lose before Easter if I fast bread, sugar, etc.

Ugh! Notice that the fast now became about me… not my Lord.

Then I thought I will give up coffee for Lent… and my husband shook his head and said, Uh, no. He does have to live with me for the next forty days and I am not so sure if sacrificing his sanity and my girls is really what would lead to a time of lifting up my Jesus.

Then I thought, God what have me and You been going round and round about?

I knew it was my health, specifically exercisingYet getting down to the root of the matter it was excuses. I have always had a very good excuse for not exercising. I feel terrible. I am tired. I have no time.

I have decided to observe Lent this year… and although traditionally, the fast of Lent is to fast from a food, I am fasting from excuses.

This morning I got up, and yes, I felt horrible. I can’t breathe due to nasal congestion and cough… and I almost began my excuse. However I stopped. Instead of making an excuse because I could not jump into a Tae Bo routine… I said to my God, OK. I know I can’t make it through a 3o minute high impact workout yet, but I can stretch.

So this morning I began with stretches instead of excuses. 🙂

Then as Lent comes to a close I am seriously considering fasting my evening meal the week of Easter…

I will let you know.

The Lord utters His voice before His army;
Surely His camp is very great,
For strong is he who carries out His word.
The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome,
And who can endure it?
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.

Joel 2:11-13


2 thoughts on “Pondering Lent”

  1. Great article, Nicole! You expressed many of my own thoughts/questions. Thanks for teaching me today. Love you dearly! Jackie

  2. Nicole
    I have finally had a moment to stop by. He wants our hearts. That is what is important to Him. He’s not just looking for us to follow some ritual (not that fasting or Lent is just a ritual). When Jesus spoke about the Law what did He focus on…things of the heart. It’s not just don’t murder…but don’t even think hatred toward someone.

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart…that’s what He wants. And what we each need to give up to help move our hearts to be in union with His…well, that is individual.

    I’m not saying any of this well, but I love your post. You asked for thoughts. Here the are.

    So glad that you are joining us this year.


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