Lent is traditionally known to be 40 days in duration; however, Lent is technically 46 days in total when you add in each Sunday. The purpose of Lent is supposed to resemble the 40 day and 40-night fast of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11).
Christians today honor Lent by fasting from something for 40 days in order to better focus on God. Some people fast from food; however, it is best to choose something else to fast from, such as social media or television.
For many people, fasting from food can cause life-threatening situations such as diabetes or those with a past of eating disorders. The duration of Lent can be hard to distinguish at times; however, this article will be able to help clear up any misunderstandings.
The Duration of Lent
The duration and exact length of days are dependent upon the denomination to which you belong. As previously mentioned, Lent is normally celebrated for 40 days; however, the exact length of Lent is 46 days if you factor in each Sunday of the week.
Some denominations keep the extra Sundays in; however, others do not include the extra Sundays. This explains why Lent can either be 40 or 46 days depending on the Christian denomination that you belong to.
Whether you celebrate Lent for 40 days or 46 days, in the overall spectrum of things, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you are honoring God through the duration of Lent. Originally, the duration of a 40-day fast was to resemble Jesus, which was instituted by the Council of Nicaea.
It was not until the sixth century under the rule of Pope St. Gregory that Lent was extended to 46 days because pope St. Gregory did not think it was good to fast on Sundays (Ibid.). Therefore, the days of Lent were actually reduced to 34 days.
Over time, Christians did not think the 34 days were honoring to God because it was not the same duration of Jesus’ fast in the desert. To even out the time difference, the calendar was changed, and ever since the 800s, our calendar has remained the same (Ibid.).
The beginning of Lent occurs on Ash Wednesday. For this year of 2022, Ash Wednesday falls on March 2, which is the first day of Lent. Lent will continue from March 2 until April 14, which is the Thursday before Easter, commonly known among Christians as Resurrection Day.
April 15 will be Good Friday, April 16 is Holy Saturday, and April 17 is Resurrection Sunday. This means that all fasting for Lent ends on the Thursday before Easter. During the early church and especially during the 800s, Christians would only fast from food.
In the modern-day, individuals can still fast from food; however, it would be more beneficial to fast from something else in your life that is causing you to lose focus on Christ.
Giving Up Something for Lent
You can pick anything to fast from for the days of Lent. Whether you choose to fast from social media, alcohol, or arguing, it is entirely up to you. Choose something that you know takes up a considerable amount of your time and replace it with praying to God and reading the Bible.
While 40 days or 46 days is a long time to fast from anything, it will get easier over time. The first 48 hours may be difficult, but normally by the third day, it will get easier to fast from something, such as social media or television.
Even though the early church would have fasted from food for the duration of Lent, it is not recommended to fast from food and water for that duration of time. It can be quite dangerous to your mental and physical well-being.
If you want to choose to fast from a specific food, that could be plausible because you are not completely cutting out all forms of food. Maybe you could choose to fast from meat or sugar. A meat fast or a sugar fast could be safe as long as it would not affect your overall mental and physical health.
If you are beginning a fast for Lent and it consists of fasting from a specific food or even if you decide you are mentally and physically able to fast for 40 days, if you start to feel poor during Lent, you will not be a quitter if you have to stop the fast.
If you ever start to feel extremely lightheaded or feel you are going to pass out, you need to eat or drink something. Jesus’ fast was a divine fast, which means He was able to fast from food and water all the while at the same time being tested by the devil and still resisting Satan’s temptations.
Jesus was able to do this because He is God in the flesh. A mere man could not have done what Jesus did and survive, although he did feel and suffer the same effects as a human. We need to take this into mind when we are choosing to fast from something this Lent season.
While fasting from food has become traditional, there are many other things you can fast from for the days of Lent. Giving up meat for the days of Lent can be difficult for some; however, there are many vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meat.
In the same way, if a person is deciding to give up sugar for Lent, they could buy sugar alternatives or no-sugar sweeteners. The big thing to remember is that Lent is not a “diet,” or a way to appear more religious than someone else.
Whether your church denomination chooses to adhere to the 40-day fast or the 46-day fast, your heart needs to be in the right place. God sees your heart and He knows the motives of your heart. He knows if you are doing something out of a selfish reason or out of a selfless reason.
As Christians, we need to make sure we are participating in Lent for the right reasons. The duration of Lent is anywhere between 40 days to 46 days depending on your denomination; however, it is up to you as to how you are going to utilize these days of Lent.
Choosing something that distracts you from God to give up during Lent is a good idea. Social media, television, and obsessing over ourselves are just a few ways of how we get distracted from God.
Why Does This Matter?
Fasting from one of these ways can help us better focus on God not only during Lent but also for the rest of our lives. During the days of Lent, challenge yourself to grow deeper in your relationship with God.
Add in extra time for Bible reading or Bible study to your daily schedule. Be sure to also add in extra time to pray and talk to God. He is always ready to hear from you — not only during the days of Lent but during every day of the year.
Whether you honor Lent to be 40 days or 46 days, make the intentional decision that you will serve God and focus on Him truly.
Make sure also that you do not fast from something just to appear more religious than someone else. Check your heart motives and make sure they are in the right place before you embark on Lent this year.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/nambitomo
Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.