Lent is a season of forty days, (not counting Sundays), which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." The forty days recalls the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.
Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a "mini-Easter" and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.
The Church celebrates Lent with several special services:
- Ash Wednesday begins the 40 day period of fasting. Worshipers are marked with the sign of the cross on their forehead as a reminder of our mortality, "from dust you came and to dust you will return." The palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned for the ashes as a sign that often our hosannahs turn into denials.
- Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday is the last Sunday in Lent before Easter. It reenacts how Jesus is acclaimed when he enters Jerusalem at the beginning of the week and how the crowds turned on him by the end of the week calling for his crucifixion.
- Maundy Thursday marks the night of Jesus' last supper with his disciples, his washing of their feet to teach them the depth of love and service, the institution of the eucharist, (communion), his betrayal by Judas and abandonment by the other disciples.
- Good Friday is the most solemn service of the year. It marks Jesus' crucifixion and bruial.