Forty days of fasting - that sounds like an empty fridge and at least two dress sizes less, doesn't it? What do you associate with the term "Lent"? You did not think of a strict diet but of Preparation time for Easter thought? Great, then you are one of the few who are still familiar with the traditions of the Christian church.
What began over 1600 years ago has changed enormously over the years. Originally, Lent was a Time for repentance and reflection. It can be traced back to the Catholic Church and has been preparing for Easter since about 400 AD. Originally, Lent was intended to help create more freedom and to use it for one's own faith.
Today, many people are already happy if they manage not to break off prematurely. After New Year's Eve, Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is incidentally one of the most popular days of the year for making good resolutions. To give up television, internet or driving a car, to lose weight and to get rid of annoying vices like smoking - what our renunciation today has to do with the original Lent, you will learn in the following lines.
Lent, what was that again?
Lent is based on the Holy Scripture of Christians, the Bible. It says that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert In memory of this, Christians all over the world prepare themselves every year during Lent for Easter, that is, for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Renunciation during Lent symbolises reflection and penance. Did you know that the term "Lent" is only used by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches? Members of Protestant parishes and the Free Churches refer to the 40 days as the Passion period.
What is the period of fasting?
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday. So, in fact, it covers 46 days. However, since there is no fasting on the six Sundays, the effective Lent is 40 days.
What is behind the number 40?
If there is a number in the Old Testament that has a high meaning, it is the holy 40: During a flood it rained 40 days and nights, the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years. Moses waited 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai, where he received the commandments of the people of Israel. And the prophet Elijah walked forty days and nights to Mount Horeb. No wonder, then, that even Lent is 40 days.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday falls every year on Wednesday, which is exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday. It reminds believing Christians that they and all people in the world are transitory. The name is an allusion to the ash cross that priests paint on the forehead of believers during a service. The blessed ashes consist of palm or boxwood branches.
How was fasting done in the Catholic Church?
Traditionally, Lent did not provide for just any sacrifice, but gave very specific instructions on how to fast - for example, to abstain from pleasure and food. This did not mean, however, that Christians were not allowed to eat anything at all for 40 days. One meal a day was allowed.
Sundays were an exception to this rule - on these days you should eat and feast as you please. Children, sick and elderly people were excluded from the strict rules of Lent, after all, health should not be endangered.
Today the Catholic Church has relaxed its rules. As a rule, believing Catholics should refrain from eating meat-containing foods on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. In addition, only one meal is allowed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is important that the renunciation becomes clear and that one does not fast "just in passing".
Some dioceses and communities are even much more liberal. Why? Surely you know many people who do not practice faith or have even turned away from the church. This is one of the reasons why the actual idea of Lent, i.e. contemplation and penance, has slipped into the background. Instead, today it is often a matter of rethinking one's habits and abandon habitswhich are unnecessary or even harmful - smoking for example.
But sweets, meat and television are also very popular during Lent. Some churches call for joint actions such as "car fasting". Even though only a few people fast today to strengthen their faith, many people use Lent to reflect on better habits.
Lent in other religions
But not only in Christianity fasting is practiced, also in many other religions Lent is considered an integral part of faith. It is supposed to bring people to reflection and enlightenment. In Judaism, for example, people celebrate Yom Kippur. The Feast of Atonement is the most important holiday in Judaism, on which eating and drinking are forbidden.
In Islam, believing Muslims fast for 30 days during Ramadan. Food is only allowed after sunset and ends with the festive breaking of the fast. In Buddhism, meditation and fasting are supposed to lead to enlightenment, and there are also numerous fasting rules in Hinduism - to name just a few examples.
Other types of fasting
Lent need not always have a religious background. Some people also fast for health reasons, for example to lose weight or to purify. For example, therapeutic fasting has become a popular method of detoxifying the body.
Whether you fast, on what conditions and for what reason, is your own decision. Basically fasting is not harmful to the body, but can even be very beneficial. Inform yourself beforehand which criteria you have to consider. Then not much can actually go wrong. We wish you lots of fun and a happy Lent!