Early Christians observed “a season of penitence and fasting” in preparation for the Paschal feast, or Easter. The season is now known as Lent (from an Old English word meaning “spring” and the lengthening of days. In the early years this season was just a few days long, but over the years it was lengthened to 40 days reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness and the 40 days that Noah was in the ark. The forty-day season was especially important for converts to the faith who were preparing for baptism, and for those guilty of notorious sins who were being restored to the Christian community. These forty days begin on Ash Wednesday and go through Holy Saturday, leaving out the Sundays.
The last three days of Lent are called the Triduum and include: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
Today Lent has reacquired its significance as the final preparation of adult candidates for baptism. Joining with them, all Christians are invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 265). While it might seem that the colors of the season should be bright greens and florals, they are mostly muslin, flax, and unbleached linen which set a penitential tone as we mark the final days of Jesus’ ministry and his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.