The earliest date Lent can start is in early February, while the latest date for the beginning of Lent is mid-March.
It is often difficult to keep track of the beginning of Lent each year, as it always moves. However, there is a specific set of rules that determine the earliest or latest date that Lent can begin on.
Ash Wednesdaymarks the first day of this penitential season in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and it always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday. It, like Easter, is a “movable” feast that is assigned a date in the calendar only after the date of Easter Sunday is calculated.
Originally Lent wasn’t always 40 days, as it first started out as only a few days of fasting and in some cases, a mere 40 hours of preparation before Easter. Later the Church adopted a tradition of 36 days of fasting, representing a “tenth” of the calendar year.
According to the norms established by the Council of Nicaea (325) and later adopted for Western Christianity at the Synod of Whitby, Easter Sunday falls each year on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
But why 46? I thought Lent commemorated Jesus’ “40 days” in the desert.
The six Sundays in Lent are not considered part of the official “Lenten fast” (every Sunday is a special remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ), and so if you subtract six from 46, you get the full 40 days of Lent.
The earliest date Lent can start is February 4, with Easter falling on March 22.
The latest date Lent can start is March 10, with Easter being celebrated on April 25.