Why Is Lent Observed For 40 Days?

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Published: Thursday, February 23, 2012, 11:20 [IST]
 
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Why Is Lent Observed For 40 Days?

What does Lent mean to you? Have you ever wondered why 40 days of Lent are observed. It could have been 39 of 50 to make it a round figure. In fact if you break it up into weeks, it comes to an awkward 6 and a half weeks. Why would somebody choose such an arbitrary number for the days for practicing a Catholic ritual. The answer lies in the history of Lent.

Why 40 Days Of Lent?

  • It was not a set rule from the beginning that Lent will be for 40 days. Actually the followers of Christ followed all kinds of variations of this number like 40 hours of fasting at a stretch, just one day of lent fasting on Ash Wednesday or 4 days etc.
  • The number of days were finalized in the The Council of Nicea (325 AD) were the other cannons of the formal religion of Catholicism were determined. The days were declared here.
  • When some of the scriptures written originally in Greek were translated to Latin by Rufinus there were many syntax errors. What finally came out of it after a lot of deliberation over one single punctuation mark stood something like this, '40 days, 24 hours a day'.

The Significance Of The Number 40:

  • We have been stating scriptures and Councils who set the days. But then the whole process of selecting these 40 days could not have been bereft of logic totally. There must be some explanation in the history of Lent.
  • There is of course. These days of fasting for Lent are the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent hiding in the desert and fasting to receive the Father's prophecy. That time is considered ideal for the Catholic rituals of penance and abstinence for all the misdeeds of the year gone by.
  • 40 is also the number of days that Moses spent with god on Mount Sinai for receiving the Ten Commandments of Christianity.
  • The Old Testament of the Bible says '"Moses stayed there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating any food or drinking any water'. This again makes a reference to a rigorous fast to purify himself so that he could stand in front of God and receive his word.

But There Are 46 Days Between Ash Wednesday & Easter?

  • We say that Lent is a period of 40 days and it is a preparation for Easter, the resurrection of Christ. So how come there are 46 days in total between the first day of Lent and Easter?
  • This is because of the concept of Sabbath or the day of rest and prayer. Now according to the Old Testament Sabbath is on Saturday because according to Genesis, 'God rested on the seventh day ' after creating the Earth.
  • However, Sunday is the accepted Christian Sabbath now because Christ resurrected himself from the dead on a Sunday; so every Sunday is a day of celebration. Catholics are forbidden to fast and mourn on Sundays.
  • Therefore according to the history of Lent, all the 6 Sundays that come in the span of these 6 and a half weeks are excluded from Lent fasting as Sabbath.

These are the 40 days Of Lent are historically justified.

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