What do we know about Lent, and why do we celebrate it in the first place?
Since the earliest times of the Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter, but Lent only became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. The Council of Nicea (325), in its disciplinary canons, noted that two provincial synods should be held each year, “one before the 40 days of Lent.” St. Athanasius (d. 373) in this “Festal Letters” implored his congregation to make a 40-day fast prior to the more intense fasting of Holy Week. It can be safely concluded that by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that it has continued from then up to this day. Furthermore, it is known that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises, as we do now.
WHY WE CELEBRATE LENT
So why do we pray, fast, and practice almsgiving during Lent? We must first remember that Lent leads up to Easter, which is the greatest holy day of the Christian year, and we see it appropriate to put our utmost effort into preparing for this special occasion. Fasting, in particular, is a biblical discipline that can be defended from both the Old and the New Testament. Christ expected his disciples to fast (Mt 9:14-15) and issued instructions for how they should do so (Mt 6:16-18).
With this knowledge, we must celebrate Lent with meaning. Without understanding why we do what we do, any sacrifices we make purely out of obligation will have no positive effect on our relationship with God.
Written by Ethan Tan