The word "Lent" comes from the Latin word "Quadragesima"/"Quadragesimae," which means fortieth, that is, "the fortieth member of a series"

Lent is associated with the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. This number, in turn, echoes several Old Testament events:

• The 40 days and 40 nights of the great flood. (Gen 7:4)
• Moses' 40 years as a shepherd in the desert before God called him to lead the Israelites out of slavery. (Acts 7:29-30)
• Moses' fast for 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai before receiving the tables of commandments. (Ex 34:28)
• The 40 years the Israelites spent searching for the Promised Land. (Josh 5:6).
• The 40 days the prophet Elijah spent in the desert before meeting God on Mount Horeb. (1 Kgs 19:8)
• The 40 days that were given to the inhabitants of Nineveh before its announced destruction. (Jn. 3:4-5)

But have you noticed that Lent doesn't last exactly 40 days on the calendar?

In 2024, Lent begins on Feb. 14 and ends on March 28. Since it is a leap year, February has 29 days, and between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday there are 44 days.

Until the end of the fourth century, Lent began on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday (4 days later) and ended, as it does now, on the afternoon of Holy Thursday. It officially lasted 40 days.

Some centuries later, it became customary to begin Lent on Ash Wednesday and end it on Holy Saturday. It then lasted 46 days, but the five Sundays of Lent and Palm Sunday were subtracted because they did not fast and we counted exactly 40 days again.

Why does Lent last until the afternoon of Holy Thursday?

Pope Paul VI promulgated the Calendarium Romanum Generale (General Roman Calendar, popularly known as the liturgical calendar) through the 1969 Apostolic Letter Mysterii Paschalis.

This liturgical calendar, which defines the current times and festivals of the Catholic Church, establishes verbatim in Latin that "Tempus Quadragesimae decurrit aferia IV Cinerum ad Missam in Cena Domini exclusive."

In English, this translates to "The season of Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusively."

Thus, Lent ends on the afternoon of Holy Thursday and lasts around 40 days.

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