What Is Lent?

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What is Lent? When does it begin? Why and how is it celebrated? Who observes it?

Lent (a Teutonic word referencing the spring season) is an annual period of religious fasting and penitence. It is observed starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday before Easter (called "Holy Saturday").

The 40 days of Lent (not including Sundays) denote a time of personal introspection and self-denial meant to prepare a person to properly celebrate Easter. Lent is a season endorsed and practiced primarily by Roman Catholics, but also by Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other groups.

Forbidden Foods

During the period of the Middle Ages, such foods such as milk, eggs and even meat were not allowed to be eaten during this period. These restrictions were not only placed on the people through the church but also through statute law. The chief food that was eaten during this period (and still is) is fish. Entries in the household accounts of King Edward III (who reigned England from 1327 to 1377 A.D.) show the incredible amount of fish supplied to the king for this period.

A Non-Biblical Period

The observance of Lent, in spite of its endorsement by several religious groups, is not taught in the Bible. The fact that this observance was not practiced by the early New Testament church is openly admitted to by the Roman Catholic Church. They state that there was no tradition in the early church of fasting before Easter (a holiday the Catholics created in order to replace the keeping of the Christian Passover).

"We may then fairly conclude that Irenaeus (who lived between 130 to 202 A.D. and is considered a "church father" by the Catholics) about the year 190 (A.D.) KNEW NOTHING of any Easter fast of 40 days . . .

"And there is the same silence observable in all the pre-Nicene Fathers (those who lived before the Council of Nicea took place in 325 A.D.), though many had occasion to mention such an Apostolic institution if it had existed" (1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on Lent).

According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, today's Christian observance of Lent did not take full shape until the middle of the 5th century A.D. This means the modern observance and practices of this period did not begin to receive religious endorsement until more than three hundred years after the death of John, the last living apostle!


The non-Christian history of this period, however, is far older than most realize. The Encyclopedia further states that Lent is actually a commemoration of the death of the pagan god Tammuz! Legends among the pagans claim his death was at the hands of a wild boar when he was about forty years old. During the forty-day period (one for each year of Tammuz's life), those who celebrated his death were encouraged to fast, cry and self-chastise themselves.

The book Occult Holidays or God's Holy Days by F. Coulter states the following about Lent and its pagan origins.

"Lent was observed exactly 40 days prior to the celebration of Ishtar / Esotre and other goddesses by the Babylonians and, at times, by the ancient Israelites . . .

"We can see God's anger over the celebration of Lent in Ezekiel 8:13 - 18 - and God's judgment for such abominations is described in Ezekiel 9" (2nd edition, page 79).

List of All Terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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