By Fr. Julian Campbell

The number 40 is mentioned numerous times in scripture, for instance, “He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights” (Ex. 34: 28) and “Jonah cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown’” (Jon. 3: 4). 40 seems to reflect a period of contemplation and seeking guidance from the divine. In true progression, Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights as a precursor to his ministry. Nowadays this 40-day period is still observed in most of Christendom with additional ways of marking the period. In the following, we will examine three observances of liturgy and their significance in the 40-day period in current contexts.

The season of Lent[1] commences with a service on Ash Wednesday when the priest recites these words as ash is imposed on the forehead of the faithful, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (The Book of Alternative Services BAS, p. 285). It reminds each of us of our mortality. At the same time, it suggests that the divine alone is immortal. Naturally, we turn to the divine to sustain us during our earthly sojourn.

In some churches, there is the practice of burying the “Alleluia.” The priest along with attendants engage in an elaborate ceremony of literally burying the word “Alleluia” at a prescribed plot on the church’s property. For the most part, our relationship with the “Alleluia” is not as elaborate. During the season of Lent, we simply omit unnecessary uses of the word in the liturgy. The word “Alleluia” is rooted in a Hebrew expression that means, “Praise the Lord” (Aleteia). The focus of Lent is to foster mourning for sins and to examine our conscience. As a result, we create a greater union with God and neighbour.

The final observance of the liturgy is the omission of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo[2] (BAS p., 186). The focus of Lent is not about the advent of Christ as a babe. Rather it is about the “advent” of Christ “from the womb of the sepulcher” (Aleteia). Therefore, on Easter Sunday the canticle is returned accompanied by much rejoicing that the Lord has risen indeed.

On the one hand, I encourage us all to appreciate a more in-depth knowledge of the reasons behind certain traditions during the Season of Lent. In doing so, the Season of Lent will be more beneficial to us all. On the other hand, this knowledge will enable us to make reasoned apologies for why we do what we do as Anglicans. Have a meaningful Lent.

[1] A 40-day observance. It commences on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. We arrive at 40 by counting each day from Ash Wednesday except Sundays.

[2] A Latin expression which means “Glory to God in the Highest.” The canticle’s origin can be traced to the angelic song in Luke 2.