What? Ash Wednesday was two days ago, and I haven’t sworn for going on three days. What do you mean, Lent will start on Sunday?
The answer is a matter of arithmetic. How do you count Lent’s40 days? In this post I will present what I learned from a liturgist, whose name I forgot, back in the 70’s. I have not heard this method of counting anywhere else, so judge for yourself. I think it makes more sense than what I first learned.
That traditional way of counting the days of Lent started with Ash Wednesday and went to Holy Saturday. But that makes 46 days. To get the number down to 40 we subtracted all the Sundays. 46 – 6 = 40. Voila!
But doesn’t it seem strange to take the season’s six most important days and say they are not part of the season? These are the days when we get the beautiful Lenten readings. We celebrate in purple, sing songs like “I Have Fixed My Eyes on Your Hills” and “O Sacred Head Surrounded.” Surely these are days of Lent. Shall we just admit that the season has 46 days instead of 40?
A new, more liturgically accurate arithmetic for Lent
The old arithmetic has one glaring problem. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week are not days of Lent. With the Easter Vigil they are the season called the Triduum. Here we have the beautiful memorial of Jesus’ Last Supper with the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday. Then there is the Passion reading and the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. Easter Vigil has the excitement of the candle-lit Easter Proclamation, the familiar stories of Salvation History, the celebration of Baptism followed by Eucharist. Triduum is the Church’s shortest and most beautiful season. Without these three days Lent ends up with 43 days, or 37 if you also take away Sundays.
My instructor showed me a better way to count the traditional 40 days. You include all the Sundays and stop before the beginning of the Easter Triduum, Holy Thursday evening. Don’t count the days from Ash Wednesday to the following Saturday. Well, they do count as a sort of anticipation or preparation. You begin your Lenten practices with Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday is still Fat Tuesday. But true Lent begins with its first Sunday. Remember: each day begins with the evening before. So, starting with the evening of that first Sunday and stopping just before the Holy Thursday evening service, you get exactly 40 days.
A blessed and happy 40 days of Lent to all!
Image credit: St. Ann’s Parish via Google Images