*Excerpted from The Anglican Digest; Winter 2017

Next Wednesday, February 14th, is Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. From time to time, it is helpful to review some basic information about this part of the church calendar. I offer the following summary that was in the Anglican Digest in the form of FAQ.

Why is Lent’s liturgical color purple, the color of royalty? The purple that is used for Lent and Advent is not royal purple, but penitential purple. It is a deep bluish purple, anciently made from berries and grapes. Lent is a season that emphasizes penitence for our sinfulness. It expects self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for the benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus that saves us from damnation because of that sinfulness. As an emblem and reminder of that, we use purple.

Then why is purple a color of Easter, a time of rejoicing? It isn’t. The color of Easter is white, the color representing purity and joy. Secular Easter practices often use lavender as an Easter color, but this has no Christian symbolism. It is undoubtedly an overflow from the purple of Lent, which most secular Easter celebrations ignore altogether.

Why are there no altar flowers during Lent? Lent is a penitential season and flowers are usually associated with rejoicing. For this reason, the altar is bare, and we use none of the usual symbols of rejoicing, such as singing/saying “Alleluia”. Even though Sunday is never a fast day, in order to encourage the Lenten discipline, we make Sunday services more somber during Lent.

 Are we required to fast in Lent? No, although it is strongly recommended. The Episcopal Church has few mandates, preferring to leave most spiritual disciplines up to the conscience of the worshiper.

Why do we talk about the forty days of Lent, when there are actually forty six days by the calendar? Sunday is always a feast day, even during Lent. Being the commemoration of the Resurrection, it can never be a fast day. Discounting the six Sundays, Lent is forty days long.

Does that mean I don’t have to observe my Lenten discipline on Sundays in Lent?

Technically yes. Most people however find that it is easier and more spiritually rewarding to continue the Lenten discipline on Sundays, even though it is not required.

Do we have festive events such as weddings or baptisms during Lent? No. They are not absolutely forbidden, but they are very strongly discouraged, and are usually done only in an emergency. The Great Vigil on Holy Saturday is a traditional time for baptisms. In the ancient Church this was the only time that people were baptized, having been prepared for it during Lent.

What is Maundy Thursday? This is the day of the commemoration of the Last Supper, the first Holy Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles and gave them “ a new commandment, that you love one another.”

Why the day of Jesus’ death is called Good Friday? For all the horror of the Crucifixion, the day is nevertheless good for us, because by the death of Jesus we are freed from the bondage of sin. The name of the day, however, is actually a corruption of the Middle English Godes Fridai, “God’s Friday.”

What does “Paschal” mean? “Paschal” stems from the Hebrew pesach, “Passover” and is the adjective for both Passover and Easter. Jesus died and was resurrected at the time of the Passover. His sacrifice on the cross is closely associated with the sacrifice that the Jewish Law commanded at Passover.

Why is Jesus often referred to as the “Paschal Lamb”? The Covenants between God and the Jews were sealed with the shedding of blood in the sacrifice of a lamb. At the first Passover, the Hebrews sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the doorposts to identify themselves as worshipers of God. John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” Since the New Covenant was sealed with the blood of Jesus on the cross, He is often compared to the sacrificial lamb that was offered each year in the Temple at Passover. He is thus the Passover lamb, or “Paschal Lamb.” Because of this, lamb has become a traditional Easter meal.

Why does the date of Easter vary? The ancient church calendar, like the Jewish one, was based on the phases of the moon. The date of Easter is tied to the full moon at the time of the Vernal Equinox. It was argued for centuries as to whether it should be the full moon nearest, to the first after the equinox, and whether it should be the Sunday nearest or after!

Where does the word “Easter” come from? This word actually has pagan origins. It is a corruption of Oestra (ancient Celtic goddess of sex and fertility). When Christianity came to Britain, the Paschal feast overtook the worship of Oestra but the name remained and eventually evolved into “Easter”.