LENT English word (stemming from an Anglo-Saxon word for “spring” and related to the English word “lengthen”) that refers to the penitential period preceding Easter. Early Christians felt that the magnitude of the Easter celebration called for special preparation. As early as the second century, many Christians observed several days of fasting as part of that preparation. Over the next few centuries, perhaps in remembrance of Jesus’ fasting for 40 days in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–2), 40 days became the accepted length of the Lenten season. Since, from the earliest years of Christianity, it had been considered inappropriate to fast on the day of the resurrection, Sundays were not counted in the 40 days. Thus, the Wednesday 46 days before Easter came to be regarded as the beginning of Lent.
In the early centuries the season before Easter was also the usual period of intense training for new Christians. During this period, those learning what it meant to be Christians, went through the final stages of preparation for baptism, which usually occurred at dawn on Easter Sunday.