Fourth Sunday of Lent
Taking its name from the Middle-English “Lenten”, or “spring”, the origins of Lent itself are particularly obscure. It seems possible that in some parts of the early Church there was a commemoration of Christ’s forty day fast in the wilderness and which followed immediately on from the celebration of the Baptism of Christ. The forty days attached to Easter began to appear in Rome and elsewhere shortly after the Council of Nicea in 325 and although the records of the Council make no mention of the establishment of such a fast it is possible that it was ordered by the assembled bishops.
In the New Testament there is no mention of a determined period of fasting amongst the early Christian Community, although, in the Acts of the Apostles, in the account of the shipwreck of St. Paul, it states that, "A great deal of time had been lost, and navigation was already hazardous, since it was now well after the time for the Fast" (27: 9). In the immediate post-apostolic age there is a general sense of some sort of fast being observed in the period before Easter. The early Christian writer and apologist, Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 225) [above right] mentions a period of fasting to commemorate the period when the spouse, Jesus Christ, was taken away. Another early writer, Irenaeus, (c. 130 - c. 200) [right] in a letter to Victor, the Bishop of Rome from about 190 until 200, speaks of the fast before Easter and of the different methods of its observance in different places stating that the difference of observance was not a new thing but that it had arisen "even long before, in a past generation". It is clear from Tertullian that from very early times the Lenten fast, whatever its duration may have been, was considered obligatory and passages to the same effect are found in the later literature of the Church. The Council of Gangra, in the middle of the fourth century, anathemizes those who neglected to keep the fasts "observed by the Church". St. Jerome (c. 341 - 420) lays down strict obligations in the keeping of the Lenten fast. During the first three centuries of the history of the Church, most Christians prepared for Easter by only fasting for two or three days. In some places this "paschal fast" was extended to cover the entire week before Easter, the period now known as Holy Week. In Rome, this pascal fast may have lasted for as long as three weeks, but by the fourth century ad developed into the forty day Lent as it is observed today.
The Roman Lent, in its three week form, was linked to the pastoral and liturgical preparation of catechumens for baptism at the Easter Vigil and until recently this baptismal motif was thought to explain the origins of Lent, a practice restored by the Second Vatican Council.
Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives.