How Long is Lent?

I had a discussion recently with a group of people, after a Sunday mass, and they were trying to decide how long the season of Lent is.  The obvious, traditional answer is 40 days.  But is that exactly right?  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and concludes with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.  So Good Friday and Holy Saturday are not part of Lent.  And only part of Holy Thursday is.  And what about Sundays during Lent?  Several people have ventured the opinion that Sunday aren’t really part of Lent, and therefore their Lenten discipline—usually dietary—doesn’t have to be followed on Sundays.

Well, not so fast.  True, every Sunday has the character of Easter, as a commemoration of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  But look in the Sacramentary, and these liturgies are called “The First Sunday of Lent,” and “The Second Sunday of Lent” etc.  I’m seeing a lot of purple vestments for days that people think aren’t really part of Lent.  My considered opinion is, Sundays count.  So, From Ash Wednesday, to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, I get 43.5 days.  If you take out six Sundays, you still don’t get 40 days.

40 days is a symbolic number.  In the scriptures, whether it’s the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, or Jesus fasting for 40 days, the point isn’t the precise number of days.  It’s symbolic of a long time, the time of a significant and life-changing journey.  That’s what Lent is supposed to be.  Whether it’s 37 days, 40 or 43.5, the point is to make it a time of personal transformation, through prayer, fasting, and works of charity or almsgiving.