Lent is the period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) that stretches from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. It is associated with the time Jesus spent in the wilderness when he fasted for 40 days and nights and was tempted by the Devil.
Traditionally, Christians used to fast during Lent, eating just a small amount of very simple food. Today, the majority of Christians are more relaxed about observing Lent as a fast, but it is still an important part of the Christian year.
Many Christians will take part in all or some of the following during Lent:
This is the day before Lent begins. In the Middle Ages, Christians would go to church on this day to be ‘shriven’ - meaning to receive forgiveness for the sins they confessed. This is the origin of the name ‘Shrove Tuesday’. This day is also known as ‘Pancake Tuesday’. In order to get ready for the traditional fast of Lent it was necessary to use up all the forbidden ingredients in the house, such as eggs and milk. It was a last chance for people to enjoy themselves before the solemn period of Lent. In Britain and Ireland it is traditional to make pancakes, but in other parts of the world it is a day of carnivals and parties.
This is the first day of Lent. In the Roman Catholic Church and some protestant Churches (including the Church of Ireland) a special service takes place during which worshippers confess their sins and are ‘signed with ashes’. This means that the priest marks the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead using ashes. This is a public way for a person to show they are sorry for their sins and intend to live a good Christian life in the future. The ashes are made by burning the small palm crosses used at the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.
This is the fourth Sunday in Lent. In some churches this was traditionally a time for Christians to return to their ‘mother’ – ie the church where they were baptised. More recently, Mother’s Day is a special time for people to show their appreciation to their mothers.