There are some curious facts about Lent that are not widely known, even among many Catholics. I thought it might be interesting to list a few of them. How many did you already know?
The word “Lent” comes from the Old English “lencten,” meaning “springtime” or “when days are lengthened.” As Lent coincides with the season of spring, the association is obvious.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and the ashes used in the liturgy that day come from the burned, blessed palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
Traditionally, Lent is comprised of 40 days. This period is based on Christ’s fasting for 40 days in the desert. The number 40 is mentioned dozens of times in the Sacred Scriptures, and symbolizes a time of testing, trial or preparation.
Abstinence from meat is required on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on all of the Fridays of Lent. Fish, or other seafood, is a popular substitute that is eaten. The first McDonald’s restaurant in the Cincinnati area opened in 1959 where 87 percent of the population was Catholic. Burger sales declined dramatically during Lent. Thus, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich was born, and many other fast food restaurants have followed suit. Interestingly, the Church permits certain other peculiar aquatic protein sources to be eaten on Fridays in Lent as well, with the reasoning that because they live in water, they can be considered as being close to fish. Included among these are: capybara, alligator, beaver, muskrats, puffins, and salt and fresh water amphibians and reptiles. Bon Appétit !
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of Lent. One of the popular prayer observances during Lent consists of praying the Stations of the Cross, done here at OLR on Wednesday evenings in Lent at 5:30 p.m. This devotion originated with the Franciscans who erected outdoor stations corresponding to the places in the Holy Land associated with our Lord’s passion. Pilgrims who could not go to the Holy Land to prayerfully walk the Via Dolorosa, the route that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, could thus take part vicariously in our Lord’s sorrowful journey.
The fourth Sunday in Lent, which is about halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is called Laetare Sunday. The word “laetare” is from the Latin and means “rejoice.” It comes from the entrance antiphon for this day, the opening lines of which are: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.” Since the conclusion of Lent is within sight, some of the more austere Lenten disciplines are lessened on this day. Flowers are permitted at the altar, as are rose colored vestments for the priest and deacon. Rose is a lighter shade of the penitential color purple or violet that is used during the rest of Lent.
What other little known facts about Lent might you and your family discover? Why not do some research together and use such a “fact finding exercise” as a Lenten devotion for your family?
Fr. Richard Ballard