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Sue Harp wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • When was the first Lent on record practiced in the Catholic Church?

Sue

  { When was the first Lent on record practiced in the Catholic Church? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Sue —

Thanks for the question.

I assume that you are referring to the Church's liturgical celebration of Lent.

Lenten practices go all the way back to the 200's A.D., if not earlier, but the Church didn't have a liturgical calendar with the Season of Lent on it until after the Council of Trent from 1568 to 1570 A.D. This New Advent article on Lent states:

Origin of the custom

Some of the Fathers as early as the fifth century supported the view that this forty days' fast was of Apostolic institution. For example, St. Leo (d. 461) exhorts his hearers to abstain that they may "fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the forty days" — ut apostolica institutio quadraginta dierum jejuniis impleatur (P.L., LIV, 633), and the historian Socrates (d. 433) and St. Jerome (d. 420) use similar language (P.G., LXVII, 633; P.L., XXII, 475).

But the best modern scholars are almost unanimous in rejecting this view, for in the existing remains of the first three centuries we find both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and also a gradual process of development in the matter of its duration. The passage of primary importance is one quoted by Eusebius (Church History V.24) from a letter of St. Irenaeus to Pope Victor in connection with the Easter controversy. There Irenaeus says that there is not only a controversy about the time of keeping Easter but also regarding the preliminary fast. "For", he continues, "some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast".

New Advent also had an article on the Christian Calendar which said:

The modern calendar imposed by authority

It will have been inferred from what has been said above that considerable divergence prevailed among the calendars in use at the close of the Middle Ages. This lack of uniformity degenerated into an abuse, and was a fertile source of confusion. Hence the new Roman Breviary and Missal, which in accordance with a decree of the Council of Trent eventually saw the light in 1568 and 1570 respectively, contained a new calendar. Like other portions of the new liturgical code, the observance of the new calendar was made obligatory upon all churches which could not prove a prescription of two hundred years in the enjoyment of their own distinctive customs.

Under the earliest calendars section, the article said:

As feasts and Saints' days multiplied, it became desirable that some sort of record should be kept of them. We may divide the documents of this kind, roughly speaking, into two categories: Calendars and Martyrologia, both officially recognized by the Church. A calendar in its ecclesiastical sense is simply a list of the feasts kept in any particular church, diocese, or country, arranged in order under their proper dates. A martyrologium was originally, as its name implies, a record of martyrs, but it soon assumed a more general character, extending to all classes of saints and embracing all parts of the world.

This portion of the article goes on to say that the first calendar that did not have pagan festivals was the "Calendar of Carthage", and which belongs to the closing years of the sixth century.
It presents a considerable array of martyrs, mostly African, but also included some of the more famous of those of Rome.

Earlier in point of time (c. 410), is a compilation preserved to us in Syriac, of Oriental and Arian origin. It was first published by the English Orientalist, William Wright, and has since been edited by Duchesne and De Rossi in their edition of the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum" (Acta Sanctorum, Nov., vol. II). The Syriac document is chiefly important as witnessing to one of the main sources, direct or indirect, of that famous martyrologium, but it also shows how even in the East,
a calendar was being formed in the fourth century which took notice of the martyrs of Nicomedia, Antioch, and Alexandria, with even a few Western entries like
Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas (7 March), and probably Xystus. Sts. Peter and Paul are commemorated on 28 December, which may be a mere error, Sts. John and James on 27 December, St. Stephen on 26 December, which is still his proper day.

I suggest all our readers read both articles. They were very interesting.

I hope this helps,

Mike

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