I learned some remarkable things about Lent from an article by Brian Backe, a senior director at Catholic Relief Services.(CNN)
Starting on Ash Wednesday, more than 1 billion Christians around the world will enter the season of Lent, a time of solemn spiritual preparation for Easter, the culmination of the church's calendar.
Despite its ancient history (Lent became standardized in the Catholic Church around the year 325) myths about Lenten traditions abound. Here are five of the most common:
Myth 1: Lent is 40 days
Counting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, there are 46 days.
Then why do we always refer to the 40 days of Lent? The 40 days of fasting during Lent do not include Sundays. Every Sunday Christians commemorate the day of Christ's resurrection, thus, Sunday by its nature is a day of joy and celebration. The Sundays during Lent are not prescribed days of fasting and abstinence, so meat is permitted.
Myth 2: Lent ends on Easter Sunday
Lent ends on Holy Thursday.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday an ends on Holy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus' last supper with His disciples.
Myth 3: Catholics abstain from meat during Lent
Only on Fridays during Lent are Catholics required to abstain from meat in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made on Good Friday. According to abstinence laws, meat includes warm-blooded animals and birds. Fish and other cold-blooded animals are not prohibited. Local Catholic bishops may determine specific foods included in abstinence. This can lead to interesting exceptions. For instance, in the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, eating muskrat is allowable on Fridays during Lent. Puffin, beaver and alligator are permissible in some places, too!
Myth 4: The Pope decides the date of Easter
For nearly 1,700 years Easter has fallen on the first Sunday after the Paschal, or Passover, full moon. The earliest possible date of Easter is March 22, and the latest is April 25.
The way to calculate the date of Easter was determined at a meeting of church bishops and others called the Council of Nicaea in 325.
Myth 5: Jesus went into the desert for 40 days before he was put to death
Actually, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, several years before he was crucified.
The 40 days of Lent are a time to remember and imitate the life and ministry of Jesus as Christians prepare to commemorate His death and resurrection at Easter.