When Does Lent End?

When does Lent End?

One of my favorite questions to answer in Religion Class or in a religious conversations with parishioners is when someone asks me, “Is it true that I can cheat on my Lenten sacrifice on Sundays in Lent?”

I usually answer the question with a question. “How many days in Lent are there?” Everyone answers “forty” which makes me feel good about their religious education. Forty is a significant number in the Bible and that has been ingrained into people’s minds. The Israelites spent forty days wondering in the dessert, Jesus went to pray for forty days, after the Resurrection, Jesus was on Earth for forty day and of course there are forty days of Lent.

But all of that depends on when you count. If you count the Sundays as days of within Lent, then today (Sunday) is the fortieth day since Ash Wednesday. If you don’t count the Sunday’s then the fortieth day is this coming Saturday (Holy Saturday). So… which is correct? Probably a trick question. Most of the questions I ask are. If, let’s suppose, you entered the mind-set that the forty days of Lent ended today (Palm Sunday). In this scenario, you may have kept your fast during the past 5 Sundays and are all ready to be done with things. Alas, you would then be subject to the Holy Week fast, a final intense week of praying and fasting in commemoration with the ritual accounting of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

If, let’s suppose, you entered the mind-set that Lent doesn’t end until this Saturday, then another stipulation would befall you. The most holy days and nights of our calendar are captured in something we call the Triduum. The three liturgical events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, which in themselves are really one long celebration over three days. If we are as true as we can be to keeping the Triduum, we would end our Lenten fast on Holy Thursday night, have a party, and then do 3 days of fasting during the Triduum until we feasted again after the Easter Vigil.

As with many things related to the “rules” of the Church, we can let the rules get in the way of following the purpose for which the rule was created. Rather than being fastidious about whether I could eat chocolate on Sunday’s or not is missing the point. Whether I end Lent today and then enter into a Holy Week fast or whether I end Lent on Thursday and enter into a Tridduum fast is all at the service of asking “Did Lent help me change in such a way that I could enter into Easter with a closer relationship to Jesus?” Because that is really the point.

At Saint Andrew, we held the theme for Lent “Pray, Fast, Give – Healing the Wounds of Injustice.” I guess the best way of knowing how you count the forty days of Lent is to look into the world and note what you see. If there is still injustice, if there is still a suffering in the people around us, if there is still hatred, deceit, and perversity, then Lent isn’t over. If I look within myself and I am still twisted by sin and selfishness, then Lent isn’t over. Our Lenten discipline is over when we are truly ready for Easter in our hearts. Ritually in the Church that may be next Sunday, but in our lives it may be longer or shorter. The rules about Lent are meant to be a prescription to help us along our way, not an injunction we can figure out how to get around. As a basic rule, if there is still injustice in the world, then Lent continues until all can know of the freedom the Resurrection brings us.

I pray you have a blessed and wonderful Holy Week. For me, I’ll keep spending this time praying, fasting and giving. I hope you’ll join me.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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