Catholic Classroom: 40 Days of Lent

Question: Why is Lent 40 days?

We know that Lent is a season of preparation; a time to pray, fast, and give alms in order to ready our hearts for Easter. However, you might be wondering—why is Lent forty days?

In the early Church, Christians engaged in pre-Easter fasts of varying length, depending on where they lived in the world. Some fasts lasted only one day, while others lasted longer. Scholars remain unsure exactly when our present-day form of Lent was established, but many believe the forty day fast was standardized sometime after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

Throughout the Bible, the number forty appears often. In Genesis, God tells Noah that he will send rain down on earth for forty days and forty nights. In the Book of Numbers we hear that the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years before inheriting the Promised Land. Elijah travels for forty days before meeting the Lord, and the Ninevites declare a fast when Jonah tells them that God will overthrow Nineveh in forty days. Finally, in the Gospels we read that Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert fasting, praying, and resisting temptation before beginning his public ministry.

Historically, the number forty is associated with purification and preparation. With this in mind, it makes sense that we spend forty days before Easter purifying ourselves by fasting from worldly attachments and committing ourselves to prayer. That being said, you might also be wondering why there are forty-six days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday if Lent is supposed to be forty days. The discrepancy comes from the six Sundays of Lent, which are still part of the season but are not obligatory days of fast and abstinence. Every Sunday is a sort of "mini Easter" since we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. 

As we draw nearer to the Holy Triduum, let's recommit ourselves to our Lenten practices and ask God to prepare our hearts for the glory of His Resurrection. 


Catholic Classroom: 40 Days of Lent