Lent has 40 days, have you ever wondered why?
Lent is the 40-day penitential period in the Catholic Church, immediately before the Paschal Feast (Easter), the largest feast in the Church. Eastern Catholic churches call this period Great Lent.
There is a solid biblical basis for observing a 40-day penance and / or anticipation period. The Scriptures are full of the meaning, perhaps only known to God, of the number 40.
In the Old Testament, God punished humanity by sending a flood over the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. The people of Nineveh repented of their sins with 40 days of fasting. The prophet Ezekiel lay on his right side for 40 days as a precursor to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The prophet Elijah fasted and prayed for 40 days on Mount Horeb. Moses fasted forty days and forty nights while on Mount Sinai. Moses and the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years of penance until they entered the Promised Land.
In the New Testament, the Lord fasted for 40 days and nights in preparation for the beginning of His public ministry.
We model our 40-day Lenten season today on this holy tradition, established throughout the History of Salvation, the history of God’s relationship with humanity. The most important thing is that we observe these 40 days of Lent imitating Our Lord, the example for all of us.
Very early in Church history, the practices and length of Lent became more regulated with the Church Fathers encouraging the practice of the 40-day fasting period before the most intense fast of Holy Week. By the end of the fourth century, it was well established in the Church that the duration of Lent was 40 days and that prayer and fasting constituted its main spiritual exercises.
To this day, we observe 40 days of penitential practices, typically of prayer and fasting because we take Jesus as our model, to prepare for the paschal feast, that is, Easter. The Catechism tells us “In the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catholic Catechism # 540).