If your church does not observe Lent, you can find out why.
You can read about fasting, which is a spiritual discipline that does not involve starvation or dehydration. You can also read Honest to God for an explanation of what we accomplish by observing Lent.
You can find out about Lenten fasting during medieval times. The link even includes a very interesting recipe!
Because Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, we skip over Sundays when we calculate the length of Lent. Therefore, in the Western Church, Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter.
In many countries, the last day before Lent (called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching) has become a last fling before the solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat.
The Eastern Church does not skip over Sundays when calculating the length of the Great Lent. Therefore, the Great Lent always begins on Clean Monday, the seventh Monday before Easter, and ends on the Friday before Palm Sundayusing of course the eastern date for Easter. The Lenten fast is relaxed on the weekends in honor of the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Resurrection (Sunday). The Great Lent is followed by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, which are feast days, then the Lenten fast resumes on Monday of Holy Week. Technically, in the Eastern Church, Holy Week is a separate season from the Great Lent.
The purpose of the liturgical calendar is to relive the major events in Jesus life in real time, which is why Lent is forty days long. If Jesus were born on 25 December, then His conceptionthus also His incarnationwould have been nine months earlier, on about 25 March. That is when the angel Gabriel would have announced Jesus birth to Mary. Thus 25 March is known in the historic church as The Annunciation.
Roughly speaking, the western Church consists of Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans. The eastern Church consists of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
You can download a printable version of this page to use as a hand-out or a bulletin insert.