The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It is the time when the whole Church prepares to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. The period of Lent lasts for forty days. This is in imitation of Christ who fasted for forty days just before He began His preaching. Furthermore, the number 40 is very symbolic for the Jews. We attach meaning to some numbers; for example the number 13 is considered to be unlucky. The Jews also attached meaning to some numbers. No 4 communicated the idea of totality and wholeness. Any multiples of 4, such as 40 or 4000, simply emphasised the understanding of totality.
After the People of Israel escaped from Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. In that time they relied totally on God who provided water and food on a daily basis. They had no security and comforts. This was to show them how completely they must trust God. The 40 years is symbolic as well as real. It gets across the message that their need of God was total. Jesus similarly went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, in imitation of Israel’s 40 years in the desert. Again, it shows that His trust and obedience to the Father is total.
Now the Church is asked to fast every year for 40 days. We give up comforts and securities and we take on extra prayers and works of charity. This is our way of going into the desert. It is our way of expressing our total need and trust in God alone. When we put our trust in things of the earth, they bind us to earth. When we put our trust in God in Heaven, He binds us to heaven.