Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:1-4

Christ in the wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy
Christ in the wilderness
Ivan Kramskoy, 1872

The word Lent probably derives from a Teutonic word referring to the lengthening of days in spring, as reflected in the Anglo-Saxon name for March, Lenctenmonat. Originally it simply referred to the season of spring, but it came to be used to translate the Latin quadregesima, meaning ‘forty days’ (or more literally ‘the fortieth day’).

Forty days is a period of time often mentioned in the Bible. In the Old Testament story of the flood, the deluge is said to have lasted forty days and nights; Moses remained on the mountain for forty days, and most significantly for Lent, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness praying and fasting prior to undertaking his ministry.

In the earliest days of the Church, Lent was observed as a preparation for Easter, a time when converts were instructed in the faith and baptized and the faithful could rededicate themselves. Sanctuaries are decorated with purple, symbolising not only the pain and suffering Jesus endured, but also, as it was considered the colour of royalty, his subsequent enthronement in heaven. For many Christians it is a time of fasting and discipline—a time to “give something up”—and churches hold group meetings for prayer, study and Bible reading.

There are several days within the season of Lent that are set aside by Christians for special observance:

Ash Wednesday The first day of Lent
Laetare Sunday The fourth, or middle, Sunday of Lent, so called from the first words of the Introit at Mass, Laetare Jerusalem, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem”. A day when traditionally Christians visited their mother church, a practice which became secularised as Mothering Sunday.
Palm Sunday Sunday before Easter. The beginning of Passion Week.
Maundy Thursday Commemorates the night of the Last Supper.
Good Friday The day that Jesus was crucified and buried.
Easter The season of Lent ends with Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.