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On Faith: The Lenten season, explained

In many denominations of the Christian church, these days are known as the season of "Lent" on the church calendar. The season is described as 40 days that begins Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14 this year) and concludes Easter Sunday (April 1 this year).

The word "Lent" comes from the Old English word "lencten," which means "spring season."

Lent is a solemn season for Christians of preparation for the celebration of Easter. It is focused on Jesus' "Passion" — the events of "Holy Week" — his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, his death on the cross on Good Friday and his rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Lent is a season marked with focus on daily prayer, daily devotional reading of the Bible and acts of self-discipline, sacrificial giving and time spent in reflection on Jesus' Passion.

Many churches practice a variety of traditions during the Lenten season. Some engage in special weekly mid-week worship, often accompanied by a simple soup supper. The music and hymns are somber, often written in minor keys, and the words focus on Jesus sacrifice, our sinfulness and our need for confession and repentance.

Many believers commit to "giving something up" (denying oneself of some luxury) as an act of self-discipline during Lent (examples might be chocolate, social media, candy, watching TV, etc.), and others take on an extra act of giving or generosity, volunteering their time and talents. In some churches, there are those who give up eating meat Fridays (which might also explain all of the "fish specials" you see at restaurants Fridays).

Lent is described as a "40-day season," often explained as a symbolic experience or journey, similar to Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness and his temptations there. And if you count the calendar days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, you will notice that there are 46 days. One of the explanations for this is that there are six Sundays during that time and Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection, so they don't count in the total for the 40 days of Lent.

The season of Lent also moves around from year to year. This year it began on Valentine's Day (Ash Wednesday) and ends on April Fool's Day (Easter Sunday). And that hasn't taken place since 1945 and won't happen again until 2029. The reason it moves has to do with how we establish the date for Easter Sunday. In 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea (church leaders) established that Easter would be held "on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox." The earliest that Easter can be is March 22 — and the next time that happens will be in the year 2285. And the latest possible date for Easter is April 25, and the next time that will happen will be in the year 2038.

In the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, their dates for celebrating Easter are different because they determine it by using the Gregorian calendar.

For many Christians, the season of Lent is a time for personal reflection and renewal. It is an opportunity to be intentional about committing to acts of discipleship and self-discipline within the faith community. It is a time for preparation to celebrate the Easter event in one's life and the opportunity to focus upon all that the Easter event means for us.

I invite you and encourage you to engage in your own Lenten disciplines as we prepare to celebrate Easter this year.

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.