Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Definition of "Lent", from the St. James Devotional Guide

As Lent approaches, it's good to know what exactly it is we're observing. In my reading this week, I ran across this definition of Lent in the excellent St. James Devotional Guide:

Originally the word Lent, now associated exclusively with the observance of the liturgical year, was simply the Anglo-Saxon for "spring" and had no directly religious significance . . .
. . . . In most other languages of Western Christianity the word for Lent is some variant of "forty," derived from the Latin quadragesimale. Traditionally, this was a period of 40 days of fasting in imitation of the Lord himself, who observed exactly that length of time in fasting prior to the beginning of his earthly ministry. It was also associated with the 40-day fast of Moses on Mount Sinai and of Elijah on the same mountain . . .
. . . . As early as the second century we already find Easter being the preferred time for the baptism of new Christians. The reasons are rather obvious . . . For the early believers, it was important that some period of prayer and fasting, by way of preparation, should precede the ritual of baptism. Even the Apostle Paul prayed and fasted for three days prior to being baptized . . . 
. . . . the Council of Nicaea . . . also determined that the forty days preceding Easter should be a special time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the baptisms to be done on that day. that determination has remained to the present time.
The Devotional also points out that it was traditional for the other members of the church to fast along with the people preparing for baptism, the point being that the fasting was "a community effort".

I'm sure I've said so before, but it's worth repeating: when I wanted to establish a regular habit of reading through the Bible, and was looking for some guidance in doing so, I found no better aid than the St. James Devotional. It walks you through the New Testament every year, the Old every two years, and the Psalms lots.  And it also pays attention to having the Scripture selections match the season of the church year, as much as possible, and provides excellent commentary, and a short form for daily prayer. (I'm not paid by them or anything for this endorsement; I'm simply a very happy subscriber.) So, if you're looking for something like that: be of good cheer! it exists! :)

And may you have a good and fruitful Lent.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

1 comment:

Kerry said...

Thanks, Jessica! You reminded me of this wonderful resource. I'm subscribed!