What is forty
(Lent / Easter penance period)
The Easter penance period - also called Lent - lasts 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The Sundays are not counted because, according to tradition, there is no fasting on these days. In the Jewish and Christian tradition, the number 40 has a high symbolic power, because it also appears again and again in the texts of the Bible.
For example, the flood rains lasted 40 days and 40 nights. And Noah waited 40 days after the first mountains became visible again. Only then did he open the window of the ark to let the pigeon out. After leaving Egypt, the people of Israel wandered through the desert for 40 years and thus went through a period of purification. Moses was close to God on Mount Sinai for 40 days. The city of Nineveh had 40 days to repent of its sins. And Jesus also went into the desert for 40 days to prepare for his mission through prayer and fasting. According to the Gospel of Luke, there were 40 days between his resurrection and ascension.
According to theologians, the number 40 stands for a period of time that calls for repentance and reflection, which enables a turning point and a new beginning. It is formed from the product of 4 and 10. The 4 usually stands for the global, earthly and ephemeral. It symbolizes the cardinal points, the elements fire, earth, water, air, the life phases of childhood, youth, adulthood, old age and human temperaments. The 10 is the number of the complete, whole: It is the sum of the first four digits 1 2 3 4, denotes the number of fingers and is the symbol of the circle. It documents its holistic claim not least in the biblical number of the Ten Commandments.
More information on the origin, meaning and customs of the 40-day fasting period can be found at cms.vivat.de.de/themenwelten.
The kathweb lexicon Church & Religion explains terms from the area of Christian churches, Christian faith, church history, liturgy and related subject areas quickly and easily.
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