Expert Answer Forum
Lent QUESTION from Michael Lanspa February 23, 2000 What is the last day of Lent, Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday???
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on February 26, 2000 The last day of Lent is Holy Saturday. Lent includes every day from Ash Wednesday, to Holy Saturday, except Sundays.
A little bit of background on the history of Lent:
The Church did not widely observe a period of forty days' penance until about the fourth century. Up to that time, there were many divergent practices observed before the Easter holiday. St. Irenaues, bishop of Lyons, addressing the controversies surrounding the dating and celebration of Easter, wrote: Some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast. He also remarks that there had been some variety of penitential customs since Apostolic times. We can be certain that by the fourth century, a period of forty days before Easter was observed. We know from the Festal Letters of St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (b. 296- d. 373) that he prescribed a forty days' fast in the year 331 A.D. In 339 he travelled to Rome and throughout Europe, then wrote to his flock that the forty days' fast was observed in the rest of the Church, and enjoined upon them to do likewise.
The period of Lent may have been said to be forty days, but in actual fact it could have been more or less. In the West, Lent was reckoned to last 6 weeks. The fast was only observed on weekdays, i.e. everyday except Sunday. Therefore, the period of fasting was in fact 36 days. In the East, it counted as 7 weeks, therefore, it was 42 days. Nor did the faithful fast everyday. Fasting become more central to the penitential practices, and graducally the rules became very strict. The Church even tagged on Ash Wednesday to the calendar to make the period an even forty days in the seventh century. Only one meal per day was allowed, and it was to be taken in the evening. Pope St. Gregory the Great (b. 540-d.594) wrote to St. Augustine of Canterbury: We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs. This became the universal law of the Church. Exceptions to lacticinia (fast from milk and eggs) were occasionally granted by church authorities for pious works.
For example, one of the steeples of the Cathedral of Rouen was known as the Butter Tower because it was built using the proceeds from donations of those who benefitted from the exception. The prohibition of eggs during Lent made popular the custom of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) and of giving gifts of eggs at Easter.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
Back to Index Page