A common question asked is “how many days of Lent are there, really?”
The answer, as in many answers, is it depends. The PERIOD of Lent is a time of fasting, penance, and almsgiving. This holy season begins ON Ash Wednesday and ends with the Easter Vigil. If you count those days, including Sundays, you will count 46.
In the days following the Resurrection, the disciples moved the day of resting from the Sabbath or Saturday to Sunday in commemoration of this life-changing event. Followers of Christ were not permitted to fast or do penance on those days because they were for celebration. The same is true now. Even during this SEASON we are permitted to re-visit what we fasted from, in a moderate way, on Sundays. There are six of those. Now we are down to 40.
HOWEVER, even though the season of Lent ends with Easter Vigil, the DAYS of Lent stop on Holy Thursday. Well, if they end on Holy Thursday then why do we still fast? The days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday before the Vigil are the three HOLIEST days of the year and we give a last bit of energy to our penance and fast. To truly walk with our Lord to Easter we cannot rob ourselves of the experience of the Holy Triduum.
So, here’s the answer: The PERIOD of Lent has 46 days in it, the SEASON of Lent has 40 days in it, and the DAYS of Lent has 37 days in it.
NOW to throw a wrench into the mix we have solemnities. March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph the Husband of Mary, and March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation are two days that often fall during Lent. Solemnities are days that have a Gloria in Lent and a Creed during a daily Mass. These days permit us to break our Lenten fast. We are not to go overboard, of course, but if these days fall on a Friday during Lent, we are permitted to eat meat! One could argue that the DAYS of Lent could be as few as 35, at least in 2019!