Lent is a season of repentance, observance, and preparation in the Catholic Church. As His Holiness Pope Francis tells us, “Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community, and every believer.” Above all, he affirms: “It’s a time of grace.”
For 40 days and nights each spring, Catholics pray, fast, and acknowledge Lent in preparation for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. And if you’ve got questions about Lent, we’ve got answers! Read on to uncover everything you need to know about Catholic Lenten season.
The History of Lent
The Lenten season is a time in which Catholics reflect on Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice—dying on the cross to absolve our sins—as well as his miraculous resurrection three days later on Easter Sunday. During Lent, Catholics fast, abstain, and devote more time to prayer in order to honor Jesus’ 40-day journey in the desert leading up to his crucifixion.
There are many traditions revisited during the six weeks of Lent each spring. From ashes to fish frys to the symbol of the cross, here’s what you should know about the history of Lent.
Interesting Facts About Lent
You probably already know a great deal about Lent, but even the most devout Catholics always have something to learn. Here are a few surprising facts you may not have known about Lent.
40 Days & 40 Nights Doesn’t Tell the Entire Lenten Story
Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before he was crucified. To imitate his suffering, Catholics fast for 40 days during Lent. But, Lent technically lasts 46 days. Each Sunday during Lenten season is celebrated as a “mini-Easter,” during which Catholics are invited to indulge a little by celebrating the Mass with their family and friends, as well as eating meat.
The Meaning of “Lent” Runs Deep
The word “Lent” actually comes from the Old English word “lenten,” which means “spring season.” However, it may also come from the same root as the word “long”—which refers to the fact that the days are getting longer throughout the season.
The Meatless Tradition Has Some Interesting Exceptions
It’s been a long-standing practice to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays, but what’s considered “meat” has evolved over time. Abstaining from meat from warm-blooded animals such as cows was the standard, which led to interesting “cold-blooded” exceptions such as alligator and beaver. Today, the evolution has led to popular Friday Fish Frys.
Lenten Meal Ideas
Meatless Fridays require some creative thinking in the kitchen. From fish tacos to cheesecake, we have several meatless Lent recipes that will help you fuel your family without compromising your faith.
The Symbols of Lent
Lent is a time of preparation and repentance. In observance of this, Catholic Churches and Priests don certain colors and symbols throughout the 40-day Lenten season. Like the length of time we spend observing Lent, there’s a reason behind each of these symbols, too.
What Are the Symbols of Lent?
Lenten symbols include ashes, the cross, the crown of thorns Jesus wore when crucified, bread, wine, fish, and palm leaves. Each symbolizes an important piece of Jesus’ time in the desert leading up to his crucifixion, as well as his resurrection on Easter Sunday three days later.
What Is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season. It’s a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance. Before Mass, palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned and used during Mass to mark the sign of the cross on parishioners’ foreheads.
The ashen cross is a reminder of what Catholics are told when they receive it: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
What Is the Color of Lent?
Like Advent, Lent is a season of preparation and repentance in the Catholic Church and is represented by the color purple. During the 40 days of Lent, Catholics can expect to see purple banners and candles out for display, as well as the Priest dressed in purple vestments for Mass.
Fasting & Abstinence for Lent
There are many reasons why Catholics fast and abstain during Lent. More than a tradition, fasting and giving up another food or pastime we enjoy helps us recommit to our faith and refocus our time and energy on getting closer to God. It may be challenging to abstain during Lent, but our faith teaches us there is value in fasting. In fact, it’s what Jesus tells us to do.
Value of Fasting During Lent
In Matthew 16:2, Jesus tells us that if we are to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. This is one of the reasons we fast during Lent. Fasting also gives us a greater appreciation for Jesus’ suffering, enables us to more perfectly and more freely pray, and helps us better understand the pain of those less fortunate than us.
Lent Prayers and Celebration
The 40 days and 40 nights of Lent should be spent praying and deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ and God, the Father. There are plenty of ways to draw closer to God; below are just a few.
Lent Prayers & Reflections
Remaining steadfast in our faith and our devotion to God throughout Lent is important so that we can truly enjoy the celebration of Easter Sunday. We’ve put together this list of 40 lenten prayers and reflections to accompany you on your Lenten journey.
Pope Francis says: “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love of God, in order to experience his tenderness.”
To help us remain committed to the season of Lent, we seek inspiration in his many inspiring Lenten quotes.
Celebrating Lent With Your Family
While you may be prepared for 40 days of fasting and worship, your children may be a bit apprehensive. Explain Lent to your children in a way that makes sense to them. Help them understand that Lent ends with a joyful celebration of love and light—that Easter is a time of forgiveness and new life. There are many ways to celebrate Lent with your children, including:
- Creating a paper prayer chain to count down the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter
- Going on a prayer walk with your family
- Volunteering as a family (e.g., serving at a soup kitchen, donating old toys and clothes)
Best Apps for Staying on Track During Lent
Nowadays, you can use technology to guide your Lenten journey. If you’re looking for an easy, on-the-go way to read the Bible, follow along with the Daily Mass, or participate in almsgiving … there’s an app for that! Here are some of our favorite apps to help you stay on track during Lent:
- Rice Bowl by Catholic Relief Services. You or your kids can rack up enough rice in the game to actually feed hungry individuals throughout the world. Rice Bowl also includes weekly prayers, meatless recipes, and teachings on the history and practice of Lent.
- Laudate. Known as the “#1 Free Catholic App,” Laudate is a resource hub containing interactive elements like the rosary, Stations of the Cross, Liturgy of the Hours, and daily readings. And, you can bookmark your favorite prayers for easy future access.
- 40 Days Without (iOS only). Lent is a time to turn away from material items and focus instead on your relationship with Christ. 40 Days Without helps you track your progress throughout the Lenten season, and provides daily reminders to help you stay mindful.
Gift Ideas for Lent
Though not a traditional requirement of Lent, many Catholics find that giving gifts during Lent helps them strengthen their connection to the Church and the community around them. Bibles, books, rosaries, and devotionals are excellent gift ideas for your Catholic friends and family members.
If you’re looking for Easter basket gift ideas, we can help you there, too.
Let Lent Lead the Way
“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death,” says Pope Francis. By dying on the cross, Jesus Christ absolved our sins and invited us to join him in the Kingdom of Heaven. In preparation for the joyous day of his resurrection, we dedicate 40 days to fasting, prayer, and drawing closer to Jesus Christ and God, the Father.
If you’re in need of inspiration this Lenten season, check out some of our other Lent content:
- 9 Inspiring Lenten Quotes & Sayings from Pope Francis
- Easter & Lenten Gift Guide: Honor the Passion and Celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus
- 40 Lent Prayers and Reflections to Inspire Your Lenten Season