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"Frau Fasten" as a symbolic embodiment of Lent in the painting The Struggle Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

As Lent in is West Church of the forty-day period of fasting and prayer in preparation for the Solemnity of Easter called. The term “ Passion time ” is used for this in the Reformation churches . In the Roman Catholic Church, the term "Easter penance time" has also been used since the Second Vatican Council . The Orthodox churches call them the Holy and Great Lent , but they also know three other longer Lent seasons.

Historical terms in the German-speaking world are “the great fast” and “the long fast”. The most important Latin name is quadragesima .

In preparation for Christmas , the Western Church knows a second, originally forty-day period of penance, Advent .

Pre-denominational development

A two-day mourning fast on Good Friday and Holy Saturday has been attested since the 2nd century, and in some places in the 3rd century it was extended to the entire Holy Week . In the 3rd century there was in Rome a three-week Lent, but "since the 4th century. Is attested in many ways a forty-day period of preparation for Easter." This period was considered a penance for public sinners and at the same time as the preparation time of the catechumens (candidates for baptism) to the baptism, which at that time was only donated on Easter vigil.

Biblical motifs and symbolism

The biblical background for fixing the fasting period to 40 days and nights is the forty-day fast of Jesus in the desert ( Mt 4,2  EU ). The number 40 also reminds of the 40 days of the Flood ( Gen 7,4–6  EU ), the 40 years that the people of Israel drew through the desert ( Ex 16,35  EU ), the 40 days of Moses on Mount Sinai in the presence of God ( Ex 24.18  EU ), and to the 40-day period that the prophet Jonah announced to the city of Nineveh , which, through fasting and penance, moved God to avert its downfall ( Jonah 3.4  EU ).


The duration of “forty days” has been understood more as a symbolic and less as a mathematical quantity. Originally - for example in Rome towards the end of the 4th century - fasting seems to have started on the 6th Sunday before Easter ( Invocavit ); it ended on the 40th day, Maundy Thursday , on which the penitents were allowed to receive communion again . From the 5th century onwards, Sundays (as “small” resurrection days) were excluded from fasting. To get to a forty-day fast, so the beginning was the fast (caput ieiunii) on Ash Wednesday brought forward and still counting the two days of Trauerfastens (Good Friday and Holy Saturday).

According to another way of counting, which includes Sundays, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Palm Sunday . The holy week begins with Palm Sunday , which is then counted as a separate section.

The Advent Lent originally comprised 40 days and began after November 11th, St. Martin's Day . The custom of eating a St. Martin's goose that evening , as well as the beginning of the carnival session on November 11th, is to be seen in parallel to the carnival customs before Ash Wednesday.

Development in the Western Church

With the end of the public church penance towards the end of the first millennium, the rite of sprinkling with ashes was preserved as a sign of penance and was performed on all believers. The rite of the laying of the ashes found its way into the liturgy of Ash Wednesday . At the Synod of Benevento (1091) Pope Urban II recommended this custom to all churches.

The medieval fasting rules only allowed one meal a day, usually in the evening. The consumption of meat, dairy products, alcohol and eggs was prohibited. Then the tradition goes back to the carnival days pastry with ingredients such as milk, eggs, sugar and lard produce such as donuts to use up to such inventories before Lent. The Shrove Tuesday is in French-speaking countries accordingly Mardi Gras ( "Fat Tuesday"), in the English Pancake Tuesday called ( "Pancake Tuesday"). In 1486 Pope Innocent VIII also allowed the consumption of lacticines during Lent. Until then, a dispensation could be granted from the ban on consuming butter and other dairy foods against payment of the so-called “Butterpfennig” .

Lent in the Roman Catholic Church

Symbol of the Passion: the veiled cross

The forty-day fasting period of the Roman Catholic Church is designated as a time of Easter penance and is used in preparation for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. “ Catechumens and the faithful are preparing the liturgy of forty days to celebrate the paschal mystery; some through the various stages of admission into the Church, others through baptismal remembrance and active penance ”. "Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to the beginning of Mass from the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday ." From Good Friday to Easter Vigil, the Easter Fast follows , as a funeral fast to commemorate the Passion and the rest of Christ and to prepare for baptism or the renewal of baptismal promises Easter night. Lent is considered a closed or "bound" period.

The requirements of the Catholic Church for the practice of fasting are detailed in the Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini of Pope Paul VI. from 1966. In addition to observing special dietary laws, other forms of asceticism and penance are also recommended. Believers are encouraged to cultivate prayer more intensively and to participate more in church services and devotions (such as the devotion to the Cross ). Likewise, they should do more works of charity and give alms . Such penance, as well as a significant financial donation that is given during Lent, Lenten called.

There is no fasting on Lent Sundays and Solemn Feasts , which always fall during Lent (such as the Solemnity of St. Joseph or the Annunciation of the Lord ).

Many Catholic parishes know the tradition of "fasting". This term means a solidarity meal in favor of projects in the third world for which the usual Sunday roast is foregone. Instead, a simple stew or a dish typical of the project country is often sold or served in exchange for a donation.

The liturgical reform in the wake of the Second Vatican Council left the formulation of the provisions on fasting and the location of the quarter days largely to the individual bishops' conferences .


The Sundays of Lent are named after the beginnings of the liturgical celebrations of mass, the Latin antiphons to the Introit or after the rite of palm consecration on Palm Sunday (Palmarum).

In the liturgy of Lent, no Hallelujah is sung, the Gloria only on solemn feasts . After the Gloria of Mass from the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday to the Gloria on Easter Vigil, no bells are rung, but ratchets are used instead . The organ also traditionally remains silent during the following Triduum Sacrum . There are also no flower arrangements in the church except for Sunday Laetare during Lent.

From the 5th Sunday of Lent (" Passion Sunday "), crosses and statues are covered with purple cloths. The retables of triptychs and winged altars are often closed during Lent and show the simpler back of the wings. Lenten cloths partially cover the entire choir room.

Fasting outside of Lent

The church commandments list fourth: “You should keep the required fast days”. Until the reforms of Pope Paul VI. After the Second Vatican Council, the required fasting and abstinence days were not only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday but also the Fridays of Lent, Holy Saturday until noon and the Fridays of the four weeks of quarter . In addition, the requirement of fasting, but not of abstinence, also existed on the Vigil Day of various festivals: on Christmas Eve , and the Vigil Days of Pentecost , Assumption of Mary and All Saints' Day .

Until the 1960s, Catholics were also obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays (Codex of Canon Law). According to the bishops' conferences of some countries, this renunciation can also be replaced by another act of penance and renunciation.

Some believers fast on Wednesdays or Saturdays as well as on Fridays for personal piety. The obligations of members of some Scapular Brotherhoods, such as Our Lady on Mount Carmel , include abstinence from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Lent in the Orthodox Churches

There are four multi-day fasts in the Orthodox Church:

  • The holy and great forty-day Lent begins seven weeks before Easter; it also counts the Sundays and thus lasts until the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus . This is preceded by a three-week pre-fasting period, the last week of which is called “milk week”, during which no more meat but plenty of milk, dairy products and eggs are consumed and regional carnival customs are maintained. The fasting of Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week immediately follows the great Lent.
  • The Apostle Lent, in which a light fasting applies, lasts from the first Sunday after Pentecost to the Solemnity of Peter and Paul on June 29th. The duration depends on the Easter date; in some years this fast is completely omitted in the New Calendar .
  • The fasting period before the Dormition of the Virgin , which is a strict fasting period , lasts from August 1st to August 14th.
  • The Nativity Fast , the western Advent corresponds lasts from November 15th to Dec 24th.

Levels of fasting in the Orthodox churches

There are different levels of fasting depending on tradition. During the fasting period, both the number of meals and their content should be restricted. On Saturdays and Sundays, the fast is relaxed by one "level".

According to the widespread view in the Orthodox Churches , however, prayer and the strictest possible abstinence from sin are considered the more important part of fasting, more important than abstaining from food in the narrower sense. Every believer should clarify his fasting rules with God, himself and his priest or confessor. Fasting "on your own" is not recommended. Only a small minority of believers now fully comply with the dietary rules, but fasting is still widespread during Holy Week .

With regard to the food laws, the Orthodox churches basically know three stages of fasting:

  1. Strict fasting: apart from honey, no animal products are consumed, and neither oil nor alcohol.
  2. Light fasting: Wine, oil and molluscs are allowed beyond level 1 .
  3. Fish: In addition to level 2, fish is also allowed.

These levels of fasting can vary from church to church. They can also be adapted to the possibilities of the individual believer by the priest. In monasteries there is an additional form of fasting, the xerophagia , which is characterized by completely avoiding food up to the ninth hour (3 p.m.) and then only allows bread, fruit and water. This form is intended for the major Lent before Easter and is sometimes observed by laypeople on “Pure Monday” (the first day of fasting) and on Good Friday.

Fasting order of the "great Lent"

Weeks Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1st pre-fasting week Fast free
2nd pre-fasting week   Strict fasting   Strict fasting  
3rd pre-fasting week Milk Week / Tyrophagia / Maslenitsa
1st week of fasting Strict Fasting or Xerophagia ( Pure Monday ) Strict fasting Light fasting
2nd week of fasting Strict fasting Light fasting
3rd week of fasting Strict fasting Light fasting
4th week of fasting Strict fasting Light fasting
5th week of fasting Strict fasting Light fasting
6th week of fasting Strict fasting Light fasting ( Lazarus Saturday ) Fish, Wine and Oil ( Palm Sunday )
Big Week (Holy Week) Strict fasting Strict fasting or xerophagia ( Good Friday ) Strict fasting ( Holy Saturday ) Breaking the fast ( Easter Sunday )

Fasting outside of fasting periods

Except in the weeks immediately after Easter and Pentecost ( octave ) and in the two weeks after Christmas, you should fast every Wednesday and Friday.

Other rules apply to Orthodox monks . In general, they also fast every Monday. The further design differs from monastery to monastery. In the strictest monasteries, a single boiled egg per year, on Easter Sunday, can be the maximum permitted amount of animal food.

Lent in the Protestant churches

“In the Protestant area, the forty days are called Passion Time - a sign that the motif of the Passion of Jesus determines the entire preparation time for Easter. Originally, such coinage was limited to Holy Week. "

The reformers stood in the late medieval tradition of an internalized piety: it is not the quantifiable external acts that are important, but the attitude. In this sense, Martin Luther expresses himself in his sermon on good works :

“I will now keep silent about the fact that some people fast so that they nevertheless drink themselves full; that some fast with fish and other foods so abundantly that they would come much closer to fasting with meat, eggs and butter ... If someone found that fish aroused more willfulness in their flesh than eggs and meat, so should he eat meat and not eggs. On the other hand, if he found that his head would become wasted and mad or that his body and stomach would be spoiled [...], he should let go of fasting altogether and eat, sleep, go idle as much as he needs to be healthy . "

From this quote it becomes clear that Luther understands fasting as a kind of individual training program. Therefore, the same abstinence behavior cannot be recommended or even prescribed for everyone.

According to the Lutheran creeds, the purpose of fasting is "to tame old Adam"; Fasting is particularly recommended in preparation for the Lord's Supper : “Fasting and preparing yourself physically is a fine external discipline”. However, the establishment of fasting in canonical categories is consistently rejected and “freedom in external ceremonies” is demanded. B. in the Augsburg Confession, § 26 "Of the difference in food": "And fasting is not rejected, but that one has made a necessary service out of it for certain days and food, to confuse consciences."

Luther also formulated: “No Christian is obliged to do the works that God did not command. So he can eat any food at any time. ”His theological punch line lay in his doctrine of justification , because Luther saw the danger that man would want to please God with his actions.

In traditional Lutheranism, there is a strict fast on Good Friday until the hour of Jesus' death at 3 p.m. The Evangelical Church Service Book, which is binding for the VELKD and the UEK , ie for almost all regional Protestant churches in Germany, stipulates that from the beginning of the Prepassion period, ie from Septuagesimae , “the Hallelujah is omitted. From Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the glory to God on high is also omitted (exception Maundy Thursday). ”Finally,“ from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday [...] 'Glory to the Father', 'Hallelujah' and 'Glory to God on high' (exception : Maundy Thursday). "

At the other end of the evangelical spectrum, e.g. For example, with Pentecostals or evangelicals , but also with many Reformed Christians , historically grown traditions such as Lent are viewed rather skeptically, sometimes broken through provocatively, as at the Zurich sausage dinner at Invokavit 1522 .

Wherever Lent is being rediscovered in the Protestant churches, it is generally not a matter of returning to traditional food rules, but of breaking one's own habits in order to give space to the Holy Spirit . For around 25 years now, Protestant Christians have been combining this spiritual practice with a physical one: renouncing cherished habits such as eating well, smoking, drinking alcohol or watching TV. A characteristic of this development is the fasting action 7 weeks without the Evangelical Church. In the meantime, many people take part in this campaign every year, which developed in 1983 from an idea of ​​the regulars' table by the Hamburg press pastor Hinrich Westphal.

Lent in other religions

Other religions such as Judaism and Islam also have times of fasting, in which the believers abstain from food and drink from morning to evening. Judaism knows fasting days like Yom Kippur and Tischa beAv . In Islam, the month of fasting is Ramadan . In Alevism one fasts in Muharram-month, 20 days after the Eid al-Adha . In February there is still the Hizir fast, which is dedicated to the prophet al-Kidr . In the Bahá'í Faith Lent beginning of March and ending 19 days thereafter immediately before the astronomical beginning of spring, when the Bahai the Nowruz commit -Fest.


Web links

Wiktionary: Lent  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Lent  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Lent  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Andreas Heinz : Lent . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 3 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1995, Sp. 1194 .
  2. fast . German dictionary by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm , Vol. 3, Sp. 1350, on woerterbuchnetz.de, accessed on February 6, 2017.
  3. Karl-Heinrich Bieritz: The church service in the church year: Introduction to the proprium de tempore. In: Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch, supplementary volume, p. 152.
  4. Hansjörg Auf der Maur: Celebrating in the rhythm of time I. Gentlemen's festivals in the week and year. Regensburg 1983, ISBN 3-7917-0788-4 ( Church service. Handbook of liturgical science. Part 5), p. 146.
  5. ^ Adolf Adam : Celebrate the church year. Herder Verlag, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1979. pp. 81ff .; Karl-Heinrich Bieritz: The church year. Celebrations, memorials and holidays in the past and present. 2nd Edition. Union Verlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-372-00012-9 . Pp. 90-93.
  6. ^ Adolf Adam: Celebrate the church year. Herder Verlag, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1979. p. 87.
  7. Basic order of the church year and the new Roman general calendar No. 27.
  8. Official constitution of the church year and the new Roman general calendar No. 28.
  9. Basic order of the church year and the new Roman general calendar No. 20.
  10. Codex Iuris Canonici , Can. 1253.
    Particular norm No. 16 of the German Bishops' Conference on cc. 1251, 1253 CIC, penance regulations / abstinence from fasting (Church penance practice / instructions on penance practice) , October 5, 1995, accessed on November 6, 2017 (pdf, 8 kB).
  11. Can. 1251
  12. See also the three stages of the ieiunum .
  13. ^ Karl-Heinrich Bieritz : The Passion Time . In: Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch, supplementary volume, p. 164.
  14. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (BSLK), p. 302.
  15. BSLK, p. 521.
  16. BSLK, pp. 100-109, here p. 106.
  17. BSLK, p. 292.
    See also Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch (EGb), p. 286 and p. 292 and more.
  18. Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch (EGb), p. 306.
  19. see article Fasting and Fasting Days in Jewish Encyclopedia
  20. s. Article Sawm, in Encyclopedia of Islam