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Forty days of Lent

The season of Lent is the time of preparation for the Holy Week, leading up to Easter. It is also considered a time for sacrifice, prayer and almsgiving. For many of us Christians, it is also a time to give up something we love the most, like eating non-vegetarian foods, chocolates, ice-cream, smoking cigarettes and consuming alcohol. Lent, the period of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter is 40 days long. But there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar and Easter. How can that be?

The answer takes us back to the earliest days of the Church. Jesus’ original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath – the day of worship and rest – was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, since the account of creation in the book of Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, however on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians starting with the apostles (those original disciples) saw Jesus’ resurrection as a new creation and so they transferred the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

Since all Sundays – and not simply Easter Sunday – were days to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days. Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Jesus’ fasting in the desert before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count.

Thus in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with 6 days of fasting in each week), plus 4 extra days — Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that’s how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent.

While many of us look forward to the long Easter weekend, ‘Good Friday’, as we all know of, was previously called ‘Black Friday’. The original title to the day also went by other names such as ‘Holy Friday’, ‘Silent Friday’ and ‘Great Friday’, before it was changed to ‘Good Friday’. But why is ‘Good Friday’ named so? The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the origin of the term ‘Good’ is not very clear. Some say that it is from ‘God’s Friday’ (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German ‘Gute Freitag’, and not specially English. However, the explanation still remains unclear. But according to Baltimore Catechism, Good Friday is good because the death of Jesus Christ, as terrible as it was, led to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, which brought new life to those who believe.

To those who believe in Christianity, ‘Good Friday’ is the day that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ who was crucified. It is an important day for Christians all over the world, as it represents the sacrifices and suffering in Jesus’ life. While one may wonder why it is called ‘Good Friday’ and not ‘Bad Friday’ or ‘Sad Friday’, the belief is that since the day Jesus Christ died is observed as a holy day. Hence, it is called ‘Good Friday’.

Good Friday is followed by Holy Saturday, which marks the Easter vigil. Easter Sunday is a day of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. “For God so loved the world, that He gave us His one and only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Jubel D’Cruz

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