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In the Christian tradition, Lent is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer - through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial - for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates on Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. Thus, Lent is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently.
Most followers of Western Christianity observe Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Thursday. The six Sundays in this period are not counted because each one represents a "mini-Easter," a celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death.
The number forty has many biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God; the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb; the forty days and nights God sent rain in the great flood of Noah; the forty years the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land; the forty days Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh in which to repent.
Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil. He overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and he began his ministry. Jesus further said that his disciples should fast "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them" a reference to his Passion. Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of His burial.
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