For most Christians, the 40 days of Lent that begin on Ash Wednesday and culminate with Easter Sunday is a solemn period of deep spiritual reflection, repentance, and penance. The celebration of Lent varies among the Christian faiths, with Catholics adhering to centuries-old traditions and conventions in their observation of the Lenten season. Lutherans adopted their own forms of commemoration.
Many Lutheran congregations offer special services associated with Lent, such as the observance of Ash Wednesday. But for Lutherans, celebrating Lent is a matter of personal choice, and following Lenten traditions like fasting or giving something up for the 40 days of Lent is entirely voluntary.
For millions of Christians, Lutherans included, Easter is the most important day of the year as it commemorates the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Regarding Lent, Lutherans may participate in traditions like Ash Wednesday. Yet, concerning Lenten rituals that so many Christians practice, Lutherans are unique. Keep reading to learn more.
Also see Do All Denominations Observe Lent? to learn more.
Do Lutherans Observe Lent?
Like their fellow Christian faithful worldwide, Lutherans recognize Easter’s sacredness and the spiritual significance of the Lenten season that culminates in Holy Week.
Lutherans differ from other Christians, most notably Catholics, in their observation of particular Lenten rites and traditions and the absence of any church-imposed obligation to do so. In other words, how Lutherans decide to celebrate Lent, including whether to participate, is entirely up to them.
One of the foundational beliefs of Lutheranism is that salvation is not achieved nor assured by adherence to church sacraments, rites, and ceremonies. Instead, salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ alone. (Also see Do Lutherans Believe in Predestination?)
German Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), who founded the Lutheran denomination, believed that manufactured constructs, such as the compulsory fasting prescribed by the Catholic Church during the Lenten season, were without merit as they were not established (or even mentioned) in the Bible.  (Also see Lutheran Bible vs Catholic Bible: What’s the Difference?)
The Bible doesn’t mention the practice of Lent.  Originally, Lent was a Christian practice rooted in the spiritual preparation of mind and body for baptismal ceremonies occurring on Easter.
Christians also fasted in early Lent celebrations, but for significantly shorter periods. Eventually, 40 days for Lent was recognized and “standardized” by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
Also see Roman Catholic vs Protestant vs Eastern Orthodox: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Lutheran Views Toward Lent
As a significant branch of the Christian faith, the Lutheran Church views Easter as one of the most sacred events of the spiritual calendar.
In the same way, Lutherans recognize the significance of the Lenten season and its underlying spiritual themes. (Also see Are Lutherans Born Again?)
But concerning following traditional Christian practices for Lent, such as fasting, abstaining from meat on certain days, or making personal sacrifices for the duration of Lent, Lutherans exercise far more personal freedom than other Christian traditions, most notably Catholics.
Lutheran Liturgical Practices for Lent
Although the Lutheran faith does not strictly prescribe liturgical practices in observance of Lent, many congregations embrace the overall spirit of the Lenten season by staging special events or embracing certain thematic elements in their services.
People can consider these Lent-inspired practices according to their visual, historical, and spiritual forms of commemoration.  (Also see Do Lutheran Churches Have Priests?)
Visual Commemoration of Lent
During Lent, purple is used extensively in church decor and thematic elements. Additionally, purple has traditionally been associated with royalty, as the dyes used to achieve this color have historically been challenging to acquire.
Its prominence during Lent is a tribute to Jesus, King of the Jews, who first-century religious authorities forced to wear purple as he carried the cross toward the site of his crucifixion. (Also see Do Lutheran Clergy Wear Collars?)
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, many Lutheran churches may be arrayed in black to symbolize the darkness which only the death and resurrection of Jesus can lift.
Another visual observance of Lent practiced by a significant and growing number of Lutherans is the iconic sign of the cross smeared across the forehead with the ash gathered from the burning of palm crosses from the preceding Palm Sunday service. The ash cross symbolizes baptism and mortality.
Also see Do Protestant Denominations Observe Lent? to learn more.
Historical Observances of Lent by Lutherans
The most significant historical observance of Lent by Lutherans is the omission (along with the “Hymn of Praise”) of the word “Alleluia” from sermons, hymns, and liturgy during the Lenten season. 
Meaning “Praise the Lord” in Hebrew with joyous connotations. The stark absence of “Alleluia” recognizes the themes of penance and repentance prevalent during Lent. (Also see Why Are Lutheran Churches Named After Saints?)
Lent’s solemn and reflective undertone transforms into a festive and joyous celebration marked by the return of exuberant “Alleluias” and triumphant hymns with the arrival of Easter Sunday.
For many Lutherans, Easter Sunday at the end of Holy Week is a significant spiritual event and one of the highlights of the Lutheran calendar.
Another observance of Lent to which many Lutherans adhere is participation in Fastnacht activities, which typically occur the Tuesday night immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, marking the formal beginning of the 40 days of Lent.  Fastnacht also goes by other familiar names, including:
- Fat Tuesday
- Mardi Gras
- Shrove Tuesday
Historically, in preparation for fasting during the Lenten season and abstaining from foodstuffs like dairy, eggs, and fatty foods, Christians long ago adopted the practice of cooking foods that utilized all of these perishable ingredients. People used everything in one meal with the simple addition of flour, such as pancakes or donuts.
Spiritual Commemoration of Lent by Lutherans
Generally speaking, Lent’s major underlying themes are those of penance, self-control, and abstinence.
For example, the act of fasting during Lent not only pays tribute to the 40 days of fasting in the desert that Christ endured but shows a Christian’s commitment to exercising self-control. Similarly, the practice of abstinence conveys a willingness to make personal sacrifices. (Also see Do Lutherans Drink Alcohol?)
The Lutheran faith places no such requirements on its parishioners, as the Bible does not mention Lent.  Anything not contained in the Scriptures is not considered holy by Lutherans.
The lack of requirement is not to say that Lent has no significance to Lutherans. On the contrary, it is considered by many to be a period for deep reflection and humble appreciation for the suffering of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion.
Lutheran Views on Fasting and Abstinence for Lent
One of Lent’s most familiar aspects is fasting and abstinence from certain foods and personal pleasures during the 40-day Lenten period. For many Christians, especially Catholics, such acts are not only compulsory but how people should practice them is carefully explained :
- Only one full meal is allowed when fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and it must be meatless.
- No animal meat, including chickens, cows, sheep, and pigs, may be consumed on any Friday during Lent.
- People can’t eat fish on Fridays during Lent.
- The Catholic Church encourages its members to give up something for the duration of Lent (including Sundays). Still, this type of abstinence is not strictly governed by the Church but rather by one’s conscience.
The Lutheran view toward fasting and abstinence during Lent is that these practices are not in and of themselves objectionable.
Luther believed fasting was a worthwhile exercise in self-control, preservation of precious food resources, and even an impetus for charitable giving to those in need.
Luther also believed that Lent was an invaluable reminder to congregants of Jesus’ inconceivable sacrifices. (Also see Do Lutherans Pray for the Dead?)
Lutheran views on fasting and abstinence during Lent as Church-imposed practices can be summed up as follows :
- Temporarily suspending a personal habit or pleasure for the period of Lent, only to resume it post-Easter, does not further any spiritual goal.
- Fasting or abstinence during Lent does not result in the forgiveness of sins.
- As stated in Lutheranism’s Augsburg Confession, fasting in a particular manner and at specific times that the church prescribes “do not make us righteous before God… therefore it is not a sin to omit them.”
Lutherans who celebrate Lent do so by their choice and not to fulfill a non-scriptural, church-imposed obligation.
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