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: