Lent is the forty days before Easter that’s used for prayer, reflection and preparation for Easter. It’s the old English word for ‘lengthen’, when the days start to get longer in the Spring. In Western Churches, the forty days exclude Sundays. For the Church in Wales, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and the last week of Lent is called Holy Week.
In the Middle Ages, the start of Lent was marked with the ‘sign of the cross’ in ash. It symbolised penitence, and the cross of ash was often marked on the forehead. In modern times, only a small number of people fast for the whole of Lent. Some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and choose to give up smoking, or stop eating a favourite food. The sacrifice is a reflection of the deprivation that Jesus faced when He spent forty days in the wilderness of the desert, being tested by Satan. When we observe Lent, we make a sacrifice like He did, so it’s a test of our self-discipline.
Liturgical dress is simple and Churches are kept bare. Purple is the colour that’s often used for gowns and altar cloths, because it’s associated with mourning and royalty. We mourn His death on the Cross and celebrate His resurrection and sovereignty.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is a day when the fast is relaxed. It’s also known as Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day, Refreshment Sunday, Laetare Sunday and Rose Sunday. For the Church in Wales, Mothering Sunday is three weeks before Easter Sunday.
As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens. The readings begin to anticipate the story of His suffering and death, and the reading of the Passion Narrative is why the Fifth Sunday of Lent is called Passion Sunday. Lent is a time to remember the events that led to His crucifixion by Rome, which is believed to have taken place in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Good Friday is the day when we remember Jesus dying on the Cross for us, and His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday, which is also known as Easter Day.