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Why 40 days?
40 is a significant number in Jewish-Christian scripture:
• In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain.
• The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God.
• Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
• Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
Most Christians regard Jesus’ time in the wilderness as the key event for the duration of Lent. Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days. Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays are not included in the count.
Why is it called Lent?
Lent is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer.
The colour purple
Purple is the symbolic colour used in some churches throughout Lent, for drapes and altar frontals.
Purple is used for two reasons: firstly because it is associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and secondly because purple is the colour associated with royalty, and celebrates Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty.
No ‘Alleluia’, no ‘ Gloria’ – and flowers are scarce! We remind ourselves visually and liturgically that we are about to celebrate the greatest moment in our faith – the Resurrection of Christ! Until then, in penance and prayer, we no longer sing with the choirs of angels; instead, we acknowledge our sins and practice repentance so that one day we may again have the privilege of worshipping God as the angels do.