Lent (Anglo-Sax. lencten, Ger. Lenz, Dutch lente, spring), the springtide fast of 40 days before Easter. In the Latin church it is called jejunium quadragesimale, " the fast of 40 days;" and the first Sunday in Lent is called in the oldest Latin rituals Dominica in quadra-gesima, " the Sunday on the 40th day " (before Easter). Hence the almost identical appellations among Latin peoples: in Italy and Portugal quaresima, in Spain cuaresma, and in France careme (caresme). Roman Catholic theologians and many Protestants maintain that this fast is, in substance, of apostolic origin ; such is the opinion of St. Jerome. But the greater number of Protestants consider it to be of ecclesiastical institution. The common opinion is that it was established as a preparation for the great anniversaries of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, and in remembrance of his fast of 40 days in the wilderness. Some authors contend that in the beginning this preparatory fast was limited to the first four days of Holy Week, embracing a fast of 40 hours, which was gradually extended to 40 days; but according to others, the fast was one of 40 days from the very first.
Be that as it may, the Latin term quadragesima and the Greek were applied before the 4th century to a period of 40 days before Easter set apart for fasting and prayer, beginning with what is now the first Sunday of Lent, and terminating on Holy Thursday. Within this period neither Greeks nor Latins at first fasted 40 days, the Sundays and Thursdays being excepted by both, and also the Saturdays by the Greeks. As the general sentiment declared in favor of fasting 40 days, the period was lengthened both in the East and West. At Rome it became 50 days, beginning with Quinquagesima week, and in the time of Pope Melchiades (311) it was extended to 60 days, beginning on Sexagesima Sunday. On the other hand, the Greeks began the fast on the 70th day from Easter, or Septuagesima Sunday. At length Gregory the Great (590) directed that the quadragesimal fast should begin on the 6th Sunday before Easter, and that all the intervening week days should be fasting days. As this, however, only gave 36 such days, the last four days of the preceding week were added either by that pope or by Gregory II. (715), the solemn fast thus beginning on Ash Wednesday, which thenceforward was called caput jejunii, "the beginning of the fast."- There is also considerable uncertainty regarding the nature of the obligation of fasting.
The fasts of Holy Week seem to have been kept by all as obligatory; but the others, it is thought, were assumed as voluntary. The general custom came at length to be a general law. The council of Laodicea (about 363) prescribed entire abstinence from food on Holy Thursday and the exclusive use of " dry food " during all the fast days of Lent. The council of Orleans in 541 commanded that those who did not keep Lent should be considered as transgressing the law of the church; and the eighth council of Toledo in 646 forbade the use of flesh meat. Wine, oil, and animal food were prohibited on fasting days, and are so still in the Greek church. Their use in the Latin church was made one of the grounds of separation in the time of Photius. By degrees in the West the use of all kinds of food, except flesh, eggs, cheese, and wine, was allowed, and became general after the 11th century; and thereafter even the use of these was permitted, flesh being alone excepted. Indeed, judging from the writings of the early fathers, the custom had been to take hut one meal a day, in the evening, consisting either of "dry food" or bread and water.
As the rigor of the fast was relaxed, the hour of refection was advanced from sunset to noon; and in the 13th century a slight cold collation was allowed in the evening. In the early ages also, the fast of Lent was kept with the greatest rigor by the catechumens and public penitents; by the former as a fitting preparation for their solemn baptism on Holy Saturday, and by the latter in the hope of receiving at the same time entire absolution or a mitigation of their penance. By the laws of Theodosius the Great the infliction of all species of corporal punishment was forbidden during Lent. For the same reason the council of Clermont (1095) enjoined under pain of excommunication that the universal peace called the truce of God should be observed from Ash Wednesday till Whitsuntide. In the present discipline of the Roman Catholic church, only one meal is allowed, and at this the use of flesh meat is prohibited. Custom allows a slight refection, not exceeding two ounces in the morning, and a collation not exceeding eight ounces in the evening. This general rule is modified to suit the necessities of climate and occupation.
In the United States, the use of flesh meat is allowed several times a week in accordance with the demands made by each bishop for his diocese, But fish and flesh are never allowed during Lent at the same meal. In Spain, the Spanish colonies, and Spanish America, by the payment of a trifling sum, one can purchase during Lent the privilege of the crazada, which is the perpetuation of the privilege of using flesh meat on all days of abstinence granted in favor of those engaged in the crusades against the Moors, or who contributed money to assist the crusaders. In nearly all the Protestant churches of continental Europe, particularly in the Lutheran church, Lent is still a penitential season. In England Ercombert, who died in 6G4, made the observance of Lent obligatory in Kent. The church of England still keeps the Lenten fast on her calendar with appropriate services, as does the Protestant Episcopal church. - A curious old English custom followed in Lent was that of pelting a puppet called a jack o' Lent, the origin of which is not explained.
Pen Jonson alludes to it in his "Tale of a Tub":
---------on an Ash Wednesday, When thou didst, stand six weeks the jack of Lent For hoys to hurl throe throws a penny at thee.
Then jake a Lent comes justlyngc in, With the bedpeece of a herynge And say the, repent yow of yower syn, For shame, syrs, leve yower swerynge: And to Palme Sonday doethe he ryde, With sprots and berryngs by hys syde, And makes an end of Lenton tyde!
The fourth Sunday of Lent is often termed Mid-Lent Sunday or Passion Sunday; it was formerly known as "Carl Sunday," and on that day beans or peas called "carlings" used to be given away or eaten. Thus an English translator (1007) gives the following passage from the Quadragesimale Spirituale (Paris, 1565): "After the sallad (eaten in Lent at the first service) we eat fried beanes, by which we understand confession. When we would have beanes well sooden, we lay them in steepe, for otherwise they will neverseeth kindly. Therefore;, if we purpose to mend our faults, it is not sufficient barely to confess them at all adventure, but we must let our confession lie in steepe in the water of meditation." In his "Colin Clout" Skelton writes:
In holy Lenton Season,
Ye will neither Beanes nor Peason,
But ye look to be let loose
To a pigge or to a goose.
Lent is preceded in some countries by the dissipation of the carnival. (See Carnival.) The day before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday, because the faithful used then to confess and be shriven, in preparation for the fast. In the north of England Shrovetide is still called Fastingtide, Fastens, and Fastmass. (See Holy Week, and GooD Friday.)