Lent is a special
season - a holy season. - that can be a great gift to every one
who observes this time of the year. The traditional disciplines
of this season are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three
disciplines are ingrained in the words that we heard introduced
in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, i.e. being invited "to the observance
of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer,
fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's
Like so many things in life, Lent does not happen automatically.
For Lent to be a holy season you will have had to make some personal
choices. You will have placed conscious attention to how you are
going to live during these 40 days and 40 nights so you will have
an enhanced experience of our Lord's presence in your life.
During this time of the year I am asked many questions regarding
both the disciplines and traditions of Lent. So I have assembled
here a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about Lent in hopes that
it will assist you in coming to a fuller understanding of the God-given
opportunities for spiritual growth during this holy time of the
Why is Lent's liturgical color purple, the color of
The purple that is used for Lent and Advent is not royal purple,
but penitential purple. Royal purple is a reddish purple, almost
magenta. In ancient times it came from a rare mollusk that only
grew off the shores of Tyre in the Mediterranean , and it could
only be afforded by the very rich and royalty. The purple associated
with penitence and mourning is a deep bluish purple, anciently
made from the juices of berries and grapes. Lent is a time that
emphasize penitence for our sinfulness. The season expects self-examination
and self-discipline in preparation for the benefits of the death
and resurrection of Jesus. Thus the Lenten purple reminds us of
that spiritual process.
Then why is purple and lavender a color used during
Easter, a time for rejoicing?
It isn't in the church - this only takes place in secular Easter
practices and has no Christian symbolism. The color of Easter is
white, the color representing purity and joy. The secular use of
purple is probably an "overflow" of Lent, which most secular Easter
Has Lent always lasted forty days?
No, but that length became commonplace by the end of the 4 th
century. The earliest Christians only observed a fasting period
of 3 to 7 days. Then for a period of time most Christians only
observed Holy Week, but they observed it with much more extreme
penitence and fasting that we do today.
Why are there no altar flowers during Lent?
Lent is a penitential season, and flowers are usually associated
with rejoicing. For this reason the altar is bare, except for some
greenery to remind us that our Lenten journey is an integral part
of our eternal journey into God. During Lent we use none of the
usual symbols of rejoicing, such as singing or saying "Alleluia." Even
though Sunday is never a fast day, in order to encourage our Lenten
discipline, we make Sunday services more somber during Lent.
Why is the big brass altar cross removed during Lent
and wooden crosses used on the family service altar, the chapel
altar and as a processional cross?
The big brass altar cross is a resurrection cross - with the Easter
symbol of ivy beautifully etched on its vertical and cross beams.
Thus it is removed because our Lenten journey must proceed through
Good Friday before we arrive at the empty tomb on Easter. On the
central panel of the reredos directly behind the altar is a depiction
of the crucifixion of our Lord - a powerful means of focusing on
the high cost of our salvation through the death of Christ.
We use bare wooden crosses during the season on the other altars
and for our processional cross to remind us that this is a season
of solemn penitence and prayer. The starkness of the plain wooden
cross also remind us more of the crucifixion rather than the resurrection.
However, their emptiness reminds us that death does not have the
last word because God has in raising his Beloved Son demonstrated
in no uncertain terms that our destiny is one of eternity.
Are we required to fast in Lent?
No, although the Episcopal Church strongly encourages it. We all
know that the Episcopal Church has few mandates, preferring to
leave most spiritual discipline up to the individual conscious
of its members. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church recently dropped
its Lenten mandates, other than to require fasting on Ash Wednesday
and Good Friday.
Why do we talk about the forty days of Lent, when
there are actually forty-six days by the calendar?
Sunday is always a feast day even during Lent. Each Sunday is
a commemoration of the Resurrection, thus it can never be called
a day of fasting. So, when one discounts the six Sundays during
Lent, this season is forty days long.
Does this mean that one does not have to observe his
or her Lenten discipline on Sundays during Lent?
Technically, yes, However, most people
find that it is easier and more spiritually rewarding to continue
the Lenten disciplines of prayer and almsgiving on Sundays even
though they are not required.
Do we have festive events such as baptisms and weddings
No. They are not absolutely forbidden,
but they are strongly discouraged, and are usually done only in
What is Maundy Thursday?
This is the day we commemorate the Last
Supper, the first Holy Eucharist. At the Last Supper Jesus washed
the feet of his Apostles and gave them a new commandment, "that
you love one another." The term Maundy comes from the Middle English maunde, "foot-washing." This
comes from the Old French mande , "commandment," referring
to the commandment that he gave to them after washing their feet.
Why is the day of Jesus' death called Good Friday?
For all of its horrors and being such
a frightening mirror on our human capacity of evil, this day is
nevertheless good for us, because in the death of Jesus we are
all freed from the bondage of sin. However, the name of this day
is actually a corruption of the Middle English Godes Fridai , "God's
In conclusion, Lent can be a holy season for each one of us. Regular
worship with our faith community at church, Bible study and other
opportunities for growth will be of great value, but when "push
comes to shove", a conscious decision is required on your part.
My heart-felt wish and deepest prayer is that you give it a try.