Fr. Daniel Hall, CSV, Provincial offers this reflection as begin our journey through Lent:
The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the 40 days’ fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still, it has been used to translate the more significant Latin term Quadragesima meaning 40 days or more literally the 40th day before Easter. The word Lent may have derived from the West German word “langitinaz” which means “long days or lengthening of days” which reflects the normal events of the coming of spring. In fact, in Old English the word “lentin” simply meant spring.
In the early days of the church, there was a fast, but it varied widely depending on where you were. Some places it was forty hours during holy week, in others it was a period of six weeks in which you fasted during alternating weeks. Fasting for forty days was unknown in the West until the time of St. Ambrose in the late fourth century. We, in the west, have by recent tradition begun Lent on Ash Wednesday, but that is not universal. Today, in Milan at mass on the First Sunday of Lent, the priest announces the beginning of Lent.
The Roman Church has changed its view of fasting and self-denial during Lent many times. For many years Catholics were called upon to abstain from eating meat during the forty days. Later with Vatican II, that was changed to simply not eating meat on Fridays of Lent. At one point in time, dairy products and eggs were prohibited during Lent. At the end of Lent, great feasts were held. This is how we end up with the Easter egg custom. After Lent they were given as gifts.
While fasting and self-denial certainly have their merits, that is not the core of our Lenten observance. For me, Lent is a time when we are called upon to simplify our lives. A time to get rid of all the clutter that gets in the way and in a real sense holds us back from living a more genuinely Christian existence.
Lent has become, for me, a season in which I try to really work on being a better person, a better Christian, and a better neighbor to all that I meet. It is a time to focus on deepening my relationship with Christ through prayer and spiritual reading. It is a time to look around at those who are less fortunate and do what I can to help ease the burden or lend a helping hand. No one can do everything, but we can all do something to aid those in need.