Is Lent Actually 40 Days and When Does it End?
- Hope Bolinger SEO Editor
- 2021 18 Jan
We don’t often realize just how long Lent lasts until we start a fast during it. When we begin to crave sugar or meat, we may wonder when does Lent end this year? And why does it last for 40 days?
Many of us may even incorporate some “cheat days” where we splurge on the fasting items on Sundays. After all, technically the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter is 46 days instead of 40, so we may spend six of those days eating fasting foods or hopping onto social media, should we have chosen to stay off Facebook during that time.
But why does Lent last 40 days (give or take six)? And when does it end on the Easter calendar? We’ll explore some of Lent’s origins and the reasoning behind the dates of this holiday.
What Are the Rules for Lent?
The rules of Lent may differ depending on the congregation or person. Some people do what I like to call “freestyle” where they pick and choose what they want to give up for Lent. For instance, someone may choose to social media fast. Perhaps they will not go on a social media platform for the entirety of Lent.
Other people may refrain from sweets, junk food, or in some cases, food altogether.
The reason why people do this is because Jesus went for 40 days without eating food in the desert. When people give up something, they remember about how he resisted the temptation of the devil, whilst being very hungry. Let’s take a look at that passage:
Matthew 4:1-11: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”
Essentially after Jesus does not eat for 40 days, the devil attempts to tempt him three times. Each time, Jesus combats him with the word of God.
Although people may pick and choose, traditionally, Lent follows these guidelines:
No Eating Meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday: This includes Good Friday. You can eat fish, however. During medieval times, people would break the rules and say that a “beaver” was a fish, just to add a little variety to the diet. But generally, aside from fish, you can’t eat any animals on these days. This abstinence period also applies to dairy products. For more on the rules of fasting, check out this article here.
Two Obligatory Days of Fasting: These occur on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Catholic church usually has those from ages 18 to 59 participate. But if someone has a health condition that necessitates eating food every day, they do not have to participate.
Giving Up Something: It’s voluntary, in addition to the observances above. But typically people will give up something else in addition to the traditional rules of Lent.
Is it 40 or 46 Days of Lent?
Although Lent is “40 days” it’s not a literal 40 days. With the Sundays added in, it adds up to 46. The 40 days symbolizes the 40 days which Jesus spent in the desert.
So how did we end up with 46 days for Lent, then?
Originally it was 40 days, per the request of the famous Council of Nicaea. But then in the sixth century, a pope named St. Gregory didn’t want people of the church fasting on Sundays. Usually, because Sundays tend to have a more celebratory tone in the Lenten season (think Palm Sunday). So that reduced the days of fasting to 34.
To make up the difference, to truly emulate Jesus and fasting for a literal 40 days, the calendar got changed. Hence the calendar we have now, where we kick off Lent with Ash Wednesday. This settled right around the 800s and has continued since.
Hence why people often use cheat days on the Sundays of Lent. After all, it’s probably not biologically possible to fast from food (should a person choose to do that for Lent) for 46 days. 40 days is already pushing it.
Does Lent End on Easter or Good Friday?
Again, it depends on which denomination you ask, but traditionally, Lent ends on Holy Saturday. But depending if you start on Clean Monday, Ash Wednesday, or whether you do or don’t count Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, you may find yourself ending on Good Friday or Easter.
In reality, it doesn’t truly matter who chooses to end on what day. We need to remember the core reasons why we celebrate Lent. Lent offers a time of reflection, where we can remember Jesus’ life on earth, his horrific death, and his glorious resurrection. I would advise the reader to follow their own church calendar (whether they end Lent on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, or Easter Sunday). But should you feel a strong conviction to end on a particular day, plan accordingly.
When Does Lent End?
As described above, it really does depend on your denomination or convictions, and depending on how you count the 40 days of Lent. However, for this year, 2021, I can include the dates of some of the important Lenten days, so you can decide for yourself when you choose to end Lent.
If you want to follow a literal 40 days, and want to exclude Sundays from that, as per the Pope’s instructions from the 6th century, then I also suggest getting out a calendar to make sure you use up all the literal 40 days.
With that said, for 2021, here are some important Lenten dates.
Ash Wednesday: February 17
Clean Monday: March 15
Good Friday: April 2
Holy Saturday: April 3
Easter Sunday: April 4
Orthodox Easter: May 2
The church may differ on some of the technicalities of Lent—and in the case of the Western and Eastern split, the holiday of Easter will fall on different dates—but no matter when we celebrate, Lent gives us a chance to reflect on Jesus’ time here on Earth. During this time of waiting and fasting, we cling to him and remember his good promises that he has fulfilled and will fulfill when he comes again.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Coompia77
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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