Counting to Forty Days & The Lenten Fast

There are two ways to count the forty days of Lent: The first counts from the first Sunday of Lent up to Maundy Thursday and the beginning of the Three Days – our observance of the Cross and Resurrection from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday to the Easter Vigil. The second numbers the days from Ash Wednesday, but excludes Sundays and goes until Easter Sunday.

We are using this second method for our devotional this year.

The logic of the first method of counting is that it provides a continuous 40-day observance and preserves the importance of the Three Days. The logic of the second is that Sundays are a festival of the resurrection and should not be considered a fast day.

The problem with the first method is that it leaves Ash Wednesday hanging (and your Lenten fast should certainly go through the Three Days until the Easter Vigil). The problem with the second is that it gives you an excuse to avoid your Lenten fast.

When my girls were little, there was an advantage in the second method of counting. It gave them some flexibility in keeping Lent. They began to ‘trade’ their Sunday so they could enjoy a birthday party or special event and still remain mindful of the season. And our Sunday indulgence was still modest – usually a sweet at coffee hour following worship.

We always worked out our Lenten discipline together. It usually avoided sweets, but we had to decide if a graham cracker was a cracker or a cookie. And, in Michigan winters, Anna pontificated that Hot Chocolate was a beverage not a sweet. I can understand. It’s hard to come in from playing in the snow and not have some hot chocolate.

Other elements of our Lenten fast would be positive. One year Anna argued we should commit to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. It was a challenge.

I think the key is to decide together beforehand. Choose what is reasonable, what is healthy, and what keeps you mindful of the needs of others. When I want a cookie or see a donut it quickly and easily becomes a prayer for those for whom a cookie would be an unimaginable luxury.

(Note: If you take a calendar and count the days starting on the First Sunday of Lent, you will see that Maundy Thursday comes out as number 40. But technically, the liturgical day starts the evening before and ends at sunset, so day 40 concludes before we gather for the Maundy Thursday service that evening.)