Who or what is Lent?
Why is it 40 days?
Next to the number seven, the number forty occurs most frequently in the Bible. It represents a period of testing or judgment. Lent’s duration of 40 days reflects other times of trial, testing and hardship found in the Scriptures:
- The story of Noah tells of rain falling on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.
- Both Moses and Elijah fasted for 40 days before beginning their missions.
- The Hebrews wandered for 40 years in the desert after leaving Egypt.
- It took the spies 40 days to search out the promised land and bring back fruit.
- Goliath taunted the Israelite army in the morning and evening for 40 days.
- Jonah warned the Ninevites they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city.
- Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days before beginning his ministry.
My parish prays the Stations of the Cross during Lent. How did this custom originate?
The Stations of the Cross originated during the crusades when it was popular to visit Jerusalem to follow the steps to Calvary. After the Holy Land was captured, pilgrimages became a very dangerous affair. A desire arose to reproduce these holy places in other lands as a substitute pilgrimage.
It soon became popular to have outdoor markers indicate not only the scenes in Christ’s path to Golgotha, but also the actual distances from location to location. Crude markers eventually gave way to elaborate artwork depicting the events of Jesus’ trial, torture and execution. By the mid 18th century, the Stations were allowed inside the church and served as a focus for Lenten devotions.
The Stations help the participant make a spiritual pilgrimage to the major scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death. Prayers are said until the entire route is complete, enabling the faithful to more literally take up their cross and follow Jesus.