PREPARATION FOR EASTER
Since the 4th century we have various attestation of 40 days of preparation for Easter. The Latin name quadragesima = time of forty days is mostly preserved in roman languages, while the English Lent derives from lengthen = prolongation of days. The term time of the passion (mostly in the Protestant churches) highlights just one aspect of this period, originally associated with Holy Week, or the two last weeks of Lent.
The Bible attests of several instances where 40 days / years receive a particular importance: 40 days and nights of the flood (Gen 7:4), Moses on Mount Sinai (Exo 24:18), prophet Elijah on the way to Mount Horeb (1 Ki 19:8), Israel in the desert (Josh 5:6), destruction of Nineveh (Jon 3:4), Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:13). It is a time of passage, preparation, penance, purification.
The catechumens begin the period of immediate preparation for baptism. They used to be allowed to participate in the first part of the Eucharistic celebration – liturgy of the Word and would be dismissed after the homily. Before being admitted to the Eucharistic table, they had to examine and prove themselves (scrutinies).
Two elements in particular should characterize Lent: the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance, to be not only internal and individual but also external and social /The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy 109-110/.
Fasting as one of the aspects of penance has been practiced since antiquity. Christians would limit themselves to just one meal a day and they would take it in the evening (quantitative fasting). In addition, there would be qualitative fasting: giving up meat and wine; later on even diary. Fasting was even intensified and no meals were taken on Good Friday & Holy Saturday. This total fasting was regarded as strengthening in the spiritual battle against temptations and as preparation for receiving the Spirit of God.
It is not until the end of the 40 days that passion is highlighted: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord with Holy Week as well as the Fifth Week of Lent.