Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Lenten Notes

 Today is Ash Wednesday, and so the beginning of Lent in the Roman Calendar. A few notes.

* Previously I've done a Lenten quotation series. I will not be doing one this term; I don't think I could consistently maintain it with my current schedule.

* How many days are there in Lent? Almost everybody gets it wrong. First, the Church does not have a single liturgical calendar. The Roman Calendar begins it on Ash Wednesday. The Maronite Calendar begins it earlier. The Ambrosian Calendar begins it later. So there is no single answer.

However, if we stick with the Roman Calendar, how many days are there in Lent? Forty-three and a half-ish. (By 'half-ish' I just mean that technically Lent ends during the day on Maundy Thursday, not at the end of the day.) Nobody wants to believe this, but it is true. You can literally count them. I have in fact literally counted with people who then refused to believe their own counts. 'Forty' is an approximate number, not a strict one. But to try to make 'forty' a strict number, people have made up all sorts of clever but entirely incorrect hypotheses about how Lent works. A common one is to count back from Easter, skipping Sundays. This is wrong both because Triduum is not in Lent and because Sundays in Lent are in Lent. It's common and reasonable to use Sundays as breaks from Lenten fast, because every Sunday is a symbolic representation of Easter, but Sundays in Lent are absolutely in Lent. Some people try to get the exact forty-day count by ending Lent on Palm Sunday, but although this makes more sense, this is wrong, as well, because Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, and part of Holy Thursday are all counted as parts of Lent. Holy Week does function a little bit as if it were a liturgical season of its own, but in fact it is split between Lent and Triduum.

* Names for Lent fall into three groups.

Group 1: The most common way to name Lent is by the figurative forty days: Quadragesima (lit. 'fortieth'), Tessarakoste, Sarakosti, Carême, Quaresima, Cuaresma, Korizma, Kuwaresma, Tsome Arba, Carghas.

Group 2: The second most common way to name Lent is by its most notable characteristic, fasting: Velyky Pist, Wielki Post, Postul Mare, Postni Doba, Fastenzeit, Fastetid, Vastentijd, Randan. The last of these, which is Maltese, is unusual in being a second-hand fasting term -- it comes from 'Ramadan', the Islamic month of fasting.

Group 3: Much rarer are names that associate with some pre-existing calendar feature. These tend to date easily, and so are less durable. The primary example of this that still exists is Lent, which originally meant 'spring'.

* From the Hoosoyo (Prayer of Forgiveness) of the Maronite liturgy for the First Weekday Cycle of Lent: 

 O Christ, Lover of all people, you gave the Church the holy season of Lent as a shield of protection and a healing remedy. Your fasting and sacrifices taught us to fast, and to understand the purpose and essence of life, the meaning of the world and its existence, and the greatness of your love and compassion. Shower your mercy on all people that they may repent, and soften their hearts that they may return to you, know you, and love you.