Director of Faith & Religious Studies

After a Reconciliation prayer service with Father Will a student asked me, why 40 days for Lent?  Why is 40 days so special? and why is it called a journey?  It’s always heartening to get questions like these from curious minds, and even more significant if it comes from a searching in our young people’s faith.

Lent is 40 days long, from Ash Wednesday and comes to its climax with Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday. The six Sundays during Lent are not counted because Sunday is always a celebration of the Resurrection. The 40 days help us to identify Jesus who spent 40 days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness, before beginning his public ministry according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The number 40 is connected with other biblical events. It is no coincidence that Moses spent 40 days of fasting and prayer before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

After escaping captivity in Egypt by crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrew tribes spent 40 years wandering in the desert before reaching the promised land.

Very early in the history of the Church, the practices and duration of Lent became more regulated with the Church Fathers encouraging the practice of the 40-day period of fasting prior to the more intense fasting of Holy Week. By the end of the fourth century, it was well established in the Church that Lent’s duration was 40 days, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.

To this very day, we observe 40 days of penitential practices. Typically of prayer and fasting because we take Jesus as our model, to prepare ourselves for the Paschal feast, that is, Easter. The Catholic Catechism tells us “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catholic Catechism #540).

 

Stephen Connelly
Director of Faith & Religious Studies