The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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Is Lent really 40 days?

Canisius | 28 February, 2006 17:17

Jimmy Akin has devoted a number of blog posts to the duration of Lent. (For his posts, go HERE and scroll down.) Basically, the problem is that the Church speaks about the "forty days of Lent", but when you count it out, Lent doesn't add up to forty days. Jimmy insists repeatedly that the Church is using a loose manner of speaking, so don't try to force the numbers into forty. What light can Dom Gueranger shed on the problem?

The short answer is: Jimmy's right, as usual.

The longer answer is based on historical information culled from Gueranger's introduction to volume 4 of The Liturgical Year. Here are the essential points:

1. The Church did not try to make the liturgical season of Lent tally up to forty days.
2. The Church tried to make the days of fasting tally up to forty days.
3. The ancient and universal custom of the Latin rite was that the faithful did not fast on Sundays of Lent.
4. The days of fasting included Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
5. When they subtracted Sundays and added Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the days of fasting came up just four days short of forty, so they anticipated the Lenten season by beginning the fast on the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent.

One point needs clarification: there was a point in time when the liturgical season of Lent did not begin until Sunday, but the fast (in anticipation of the season) was begun on Wednesday. In our day, the liturgical season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

So the key to the discussion over at Jimmy's blog is that the Church has never tried to make the liturgical season equal forty days, but rather has focused on making the days of penance equal to forty days. When the Church speaks of the "forty days of Lent", she seems to mean the forty days of the fast that belongs to Lent--but the fast proper to Lent can anticipate Lent by several days and extend beyond Lent by a couple of days!

By the way, this whole discussion solves one mystery: why does Dom Gueranger have Ash Wednesday in the Septuagesima volume of The Liturgical Year rather than in the Lenten volume? Because the four days of penance before the first Sunday of Lent were seen as an anticipation of the season of Lent rather than the beginning of the season itself.


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