Lent.—The Teutonic word, Lent, originally meant the spring season. It has come to mean the forty days preceding Easter. Scholars used to maintain that this season of penance was of apostolic origin; but, modern scholars noting the diversity of practice and the diversity of duration in different churches and the Easter controversy, hold that it is not of apostolic origin, and that it dates from the third century or even from the fourth century. It is not mentioned in the Didascalia (circa 250 A.D.), but was enjoined by St. Athanasius upon his flock in 331.
Easter is the chief festival of Christendom, the first and oldest of all festivals, the basis on which the Church’s year is built, the connecting link with the festivals of the old covenant and the central point on which depends the date of the other movable feasts. Some of the very early Christian writers call it feast of feasts (festum festorum).
The English word Easter is from Eastre, the goddess of spring. In the liturgy we never find the word Pascha, always the words dominica resurrectionsis. Pascha has no connection with the Greek [Greek: Pascho], but is the Aramaic form of pesach.
Some points regarding this festival are to be noted, its antiquity, its connection with Jewish feasts and Christian feasts, its preparation, character and duration.
Antiquity. No mention of this feast is in the Didache, in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, or in his apologies. But in the year 198 A.D. an exchange of letters between Pope Victor, Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem, Polycrates of Ephesus, shows that the feast had been for years in existence. Many references are found in Tertullian and writers of his time to this festival.
Connection of the Christian Festival with the Jewish. “The connection between the Christian and the Jewish feasts is both historical and ideal—historical because our Lord’s death happened on the 15th Nisan, the first day of the Jewish feast; ideal, because what took place had been prefigured in the Old Testament by types, of which itself was the antitype. The Jewish rites and ceremonies (Exodus XII.) are referred to in the prophecies of the Messias. Thus, Isaias calls Him the Lamb chosen by God, who bears the iniquities of others. The Baptist called Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Evangelist refers to the typical character of the Passover rites, when he applies, ‘a bone of it shall not be broken’ (Exod. XII. 46), to Christ on the Cross. Justin and Tertullian see in the Christian sacrifice the fulfilment of the imperfect sacrifices of the old law. Hence, there is no doubt that the Jewish Passover was taken over into Christianity. Thereby its typical ceremonies found their due fulfilment.
“To the real and historical connection between Easter and the Passover is due the explanation of a striking peculiarity in the Church’s year, viz., the moveable feasts of which Easter is the starting point. Easter falls on no fixed date, because the Jewish 15th Nisan, unlike the dates of the Julian and Gregorian Calendars, varied year by year.