Lent is one of the most well-known annual Christian observances. It has been practiced for centuries and is an important expression of devotion for many believers. But do all Christian denominations observe Lent?
Several Christian denominations observe the sacred period of Lent, but not all do. In addition to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, many Protestant denominations observe Lent, though they do so differently, including many Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches.
Baptist, Pentecostal, and some non-denominational churches are less likely to formally observe Lent as a corporate body in a formal capacity, however, individuals in such churches may still observe the sacred period privately.
It’s important to note that Baptist and Pentecostal churches are mostly congregationally governed, so some fellowships in these traditions may decide to incorporate a formal observation of Lent.
The comparison chart below will help the reader understand how the Catholic Church observes Lent and how many Protestant churches do.
Also, see Roman Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Catholic Lent Observance vs. Protestant Lent Observance
The comparison chart below provides an overview of the difference between the Roman Catholic observance of Lent and its observance in those Protestant churches that formally recognize the sacred period.
Lent is the sacred 40-day period prior to Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday. Lent was originally a time of preparation for baptism. Over the centuries, it became a time of reflection and sacrifice for baptized believers as well.
It’s important to remember that, unlike Roman Catholicism, Protestant churches don’t have one global governing body or individual head (i.e., the Pope), so their practices often vary by denomination and church.
|Partake in the Stations of the Cross?
|Yes, this is an important part of their observance
|No, Protestant churches don’t participate in this tradition
|Removal of celebratory features in church, like flowers?
|Yes, this is meant to reflect the mourning associated with sin and Christ’s death
|Depends on the church; more liturgical churches remove them, but it varies by congregation
|Crosses and crucifixes?
|Crucifixes are centralized to draw attention to Christ’s death for sin
|Crosses remain in the sanctuary; Protestant churches rarely display crucifixes at any time of the year
|Yes, adherents often refrain from certain foods, drinks, and behaviors during Lent
|Many liturgical churches encourage it; non-liturgical churches don’t formally or corporately participate, yet some individuals choose to
|Spiritual practices emphasized during Lent
|Mass, prayer, bible study, fasting, abstentions, confession
|Attending church, prayer, bible reading, fasting for some, abstentions for some
While many Roman Catholics, and some Protestants, can say they “observe Lent,” they often mean different things. In Roman Catholicism, the observances are often formal, ceremonial, and liturgical. In Protestantism, the observances are often individual and customized.
Abstention, from the word “abstain,” refers to voluntarily refraining from certain behaviors, like not drinking alcohol, as expressions of spiritual devotion.
Also, see Do Protestant Churches Celebrate Lent? to learn more.
Do Non-Denominational Churches Observe Lent?
Non-denominational churches are the same as denominational churches in many respects, yet many have unique differences. Some non-denominational churches observe Lent, and some don’t.
Each non-denominational church is able to customize the practices they do as a congregation. (Also see What Denominations Don’t Take Communion?)
Some non-denominational churches are more formal and liturgical and observe Lent. Others are less formal and liturgical, and while they wouldn’t stop an individual from observing Lent, it is not their practice to arrange a congregation-wide observance for the sacred 40-day period.
Also, see Do Lutherans Observe Lent? to learn more.
8 Questions About Lent Answered
Many people know a little about Lent, but they have questions about its biblical foundation, duration, symbolism, variations, and history. Having these questions answered sheds light on this important Spring event.
Is Lent commanded in the Bible?
Lent is not commanded in the bible. However, it can be said that Lent is an application of biblical instruction to humbly reflect on the cross of Christ, especially in advance of Easter.
If an individual doesn’t observe Lent, they are not breaking a commandment found in the Bible. (Also see Do All Denominations Believe in the 10 Commandments?)
Why is Lent 40 days?
The duration of 40 days mirrors Christ’s time in the wilderness, which preceded his three-year public ministry.
For Christ, it was a time of fasting and temptation as he readied himself for preaching, healing, discipling, leading, and eventually dying in obedience to the Father.
Devout Christians desire to be like Christ, so they seek to follow in his footsteps in many ways.
Though Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness didn’t directly precede his death and resurrection, like Lent precedes the believer’s observance and celebration of those events, Christians believe there is value in duplicating the duration of 40 days for their own edification and holiness.
When does Lent start?
While there is no agreement on when Lent ends, there is agreement on when it begins. Lent begins 40 days before Easter, on a Wednesday, which is traditionally known as Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. In some Christian tradition, it is customary to have ash, in the shape of a cross, smeared on one’s forehead, which symbolizes repentance and contrition.
Anglican churches, as well as some Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches, observe Ash Wednesday in a formal manner.
Many other Protestant churches, even those that observe Lent, don’t have a special service marking the beginning of Lent. (Also see Do All Christian Denominations Baptize People?)
What is the purpose of Lent?
Generally, the purpose of Lent is to spiritually prepare a person for observing and celebrating Easter. How the preparation occurs varies by denomination, church, and individual.
Though traditions vary, spiritual practices like prayer, bible study, and restraining one’s self from certain behaviors are common.
Why do people give things up for Lent?
Also called a “Lenten Sacrifice,” denying one’s self something during Lent is an expression of selflessness and total devotion to God for many believers. Abstaining from something for 40 days is intended to concentrate the mind and heart of the individual to the things of God.
When does Lent end?
The end of Lent varies by denomination or even by the church. Some believers end Lent the Thursday before Easter Sunday, called “Maundy Thursday.” Others continue their observation until Saturday, the day before Easter.
In many Roman Catholic churches, Lent ends on Thursday, prior to the mass observing the Lord’s Supper. Many Protestant traditions that observe Lent conclude their participation the day before Easter.
What is the history of Lent?
The 40-day period associated with Lent started in the 7th century. Before that, historical records indicate that it was a seven-day observance, which coincided with “Holy Week” and led up to Easter.
At one time in history, nearly all Christians were united in their observance of Lent.
- The split between the Eastern church (Eastern Orthodoxy) and the Western church (Roman Catholicism) didn’t occur until the 11th century.
- The split between the Reformers (Protestantism) and Roman Catholicism didn’t occur until the 16th century.
Prior to these church splits all Christians who observed Lent generally observed it in the same way.
How do Protestants calculate the 40 days of Lent?
The period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday is more than 40 days, so how is understood in Protestant traditions? Many Protestant denominations don’t count Sundays in the 40-day calculation, including Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist churches.
Why some Protestant churches don’t count Sundays in their calculation is rooted in traditions that aren’t clear.
However, it is likely that since Lent is intended to be a solemn time of sacrifice and reflection – something Sundays are for many Christians already – counting these days wouldn’t be an authentic sacrifice unique to the 40-day period.
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