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The Season of Lent

What Is Lent?

Lent is the penitential season of approximately 40 days set aside by the Church in order for the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is a time when we do works of penance – i.e. prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The period of 40 days reminds us of the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the desert prior to beginning his public ministry.

When does Lent begin?

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – the exact date varies slightly from year to year, but the liturgical season of Lent always falls in the springtime – which reminds us of new life, growth and hope. (The word Lent is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word lengten or lencten meaning spring.) The ashes are made from the blessed Palms from the previous Palm Sunday.

This new life is seen not only in those who are making their final preparation to be baptised, or welcomed into full Communion at the Easter Vigil, but also in our own renewal of our baptismal vows on Easter Day.

On Ash Wednesday, the priest traces a cross in ashes on our foreheads. (This year, ashes were sprinkled on the head, to avoid physical contact.) These ashes are a symbol of this passing world and remind us of our death - that we will one day return to dust; and also that we are stained by sin and need to repent and do penance for our sins. This is also a sign of promise: that although the original sin of Adam brought death; the life, death and resurrection of the New Adam – Jesus Christ – brings us the grace of a new life and a new future, as a new creation in a new heaven and a new earth.


The Church’s rules on Lenten fasting used to be very strict. No meat or even animal products (dairy products or eggs) were allowed to be eaten in Lent – hence the tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent begins) to use up all the milk and eggs in the home.

Today, although many people still enjoy the tradition of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the rules are not quite so strict. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are still days when fasting is to be strictly observed, but although meat is forbidden, eggs, milk products and foods containing animal fats are now permitted to be eaten. On these two days, only one full meal is permitted for those aged between 14 years and 60 years old, but a couple of other small meals are permitted, provided they do not amount to as much food as the main meal. The rules are also relaxed for those who are sick, or for expectant mothers. Our fasting is also about recognising our dependency on God and his goodness; and fasting should increase our love for God and for our neighbour. This calls us both to deepen our prayer and to give the money we save through fasting, to the poor.

The Lenten liturgies:

The Church looks austere in Lent – the flowers are gone, the priest wears violet vestments – the traditional colour of mourning and mortification and we no longer sing “alleluia” (the Easter chant) and there is no Gloria during the Mass. The music is subdued, with less singing during the Mass. From the fifth Sunday of Lent, we cover the statues (or remove them from the Church where this is possible).

The Lenten austerity is briefly broken on the Fourth Sunday of Lent Laetare Sunday (from the Introit at Mass “Laetare Jerusalem” – “Rejoice Jerusalem”) when the priest wears Rose vestments. There are also a few feasts which break into the season of Lent – most notably, the Solemnity of St Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 19th March and the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord on 25th March.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week:

The sixth Sunday in Lent is called “Palm Sunday”. This is the commemoration of Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem and we are given palms which are blessed at the beginning of Mass – this often takes place outside the Church and then we process into the Church singing hymns.

This marks the start of the most solemn part of Lent – Holy Week. During this week, we follow the last days of Jesus’ earthly life and Ministry. As we move through Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday, we move deeper into the Mystery of the Passion. The Season of Lent ends on Maundy Thursday and that day, together with Good Friday and Holy Saturday are known as the Easter Triduum (“Three Days”). On Maundy Thursday, in the evening, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper followed by “The Watching” until midnight – some people stay for part of The Watching, some remain for the whole time, whilst others may return later for the very end, after taking the youngest children home to bed. On Good Friday at 3pm we commemorate the Lord’s Passion in the Good Friday Service; and on Holy Saturday, in the morning, we contemplate the descent of Our Lord into Hades.

Lenten devotions:

Whatever private or public devotions you decide to follow during Lent, you are encouraged to use this time to deepen your relationship with Our Lord and to prepare properly for the joyful season of Eastertide which follows! Some of the devotions and traditions which you will find in the parish are:

Attending weekday Mass – in the parish we have a 7am “Penitents” Mass on Fridays to encourage all parishioners to sacrifice a little sleep; and to enable workers to attend Mass before they go to their place of work. (It is not possible to arrange this early Mass in 2021 because of the pandemic.)

Stations of the Cross

on Fridays is another traditional devotion – the fourteen stations help us to meditate on the events which comprise the Passion and Death of Our Lord.

Spiritual reading

is another way of deepening your Faith during Lent. The book stands at the back of both Churches in the parish are stocked with Lent booklets suitable for the various age groups in the parish. (We have had to remove booklets from the stands at present, to avoid them being handled and replaced on the stands.)

Lent in the family home:

There are many ways of making Lent a special time of preparation for Easter, in the family home. Families can make and eat pancakes together on Shrove Tuesday – the parents can explain why this is done and the children can enjoy topping the pancakes with their favourite foods – such as lemon and sugar, jam, or chocolate spread to enjoy these one last time before the Lent fast begins!

There are many “Lent activity calendars” available for children. These are distributed free to the children who attend the Sunday morning liturgy group, but you could also make your own calendar. (The children's liturgy is currently suspended because of the pandemic.) Make a calendar with a box for each day and put in a penitential activity for each member of the family, such as tidying your bedroom, putting out the rubbish, doing the hoovering, or cleaning out a cupboard.

And finally:

You may have counted up all the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter and found that this comes to 46 days! Traditionally, every Sunday is “Easter Day” and a celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection – and so the six Sundays which fall during this season do not form part of the 40 days of Lent!