A History of Traditional Lenten Practices

The Lenten period was a tradition that remained unspecified throughout the early history of the Church. It was not until the reign of Emperor Constantine that Christians initiated the landmark Council of Nicea in the year 325 AD to settle the matter of Lent, among other topics of controversial interest.

Records suggest that a pre-Easter observance had previously been practiced sometimes for just a few days. However, bishops at the Council of Nicea set the time of 40 days as a strict and standardized observance. The reason may be because of the lack of zeal church members had after the apostolic age. Some church members appeared to be lowering their standard of Christian life. Another reason may be because of the increase of pagan converts that were entering the church. All of these converts needed to be trained and disciplined as Christians. The 40 days before Easter was a time in which potential baptism candidates could be trained and prepared to become Christians through water baptism.

Nevertheless, the period of Lent is classified as a time of praying, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a period in which all Christians should take the opportunity to grow and become deepened in their knowledge of the cross. Christian ministers, especially, would be wise to engage the community in various activities during this period.

Traditionally, the Catholic church engaged in long periods of fasting, prayer, Bible-reading, and almsgiving. The standard has been lowered more and more throughout history. In fact, the observance of Lent has been significantly reduced in many Catholic traditions and in Christian communities as well.

However, one must not forget the solemnity that was always attached to the days pre-Easter. Lent has always maintained an emphasis on repentance and piety. According to “The Cross of Christ,” by Dr. Christy Tran, Lent is a spiritual period in which believers embody the passion of Christ and reflect on the meaning it has on their lives.