Differences in Lent Between Catholics & Lutherans

Along with many similarities, Catholics and Lutherans have interesting differences in their Lenten practices. The Lutheran Church split from the Catholic Church in the 16th Century, preaching the primacy of the Bible and salvation by faith alone. The Lutheran and Catholic churches remain close in doctrine, however, and Lent is in the liturgy of both churches. The main difference between the churches is Lent's authority; for Catholics, Lent is Sacred Tradition while those in the Lutheran faith observe it is a voluntary, non-Scriptural activity.

Season of Lent

In both churches, Lent is the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, the holiest day of the year that marks the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The period is marked by solemnity and contemplation. Christians typically fast and sacrifice certain things during this time in preparation for Easter. The word "alleluia," which is a joyful exclamation, is taken out of the liturgy of both churches during this period. In some regions, Lent is preceded by unscriptural festivals, such as the widely known celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the popular Carnival in Brazil that are held on the day before Ash Wednesday when Lent commences.

Lent in the Catechism

The Catholic Catechism, which is an official summary of Catholic beliefs, compares the 40 days of Lent to the 40 days in which Jesus was tested in the desert. The Catechism views Lent as an opportunity for believers to work on their spiritual lives. Lent is particularly appropriate for engaging in spiritual exercises, penitence, pilgrimages, fasting, alms giving, charity and missionary work. The Catholic Church continues to emphasize Friday, in particular, as a time for fasting, abstaining from meat and self-denial.

Lent in the Book of Concord

The Book of Concord contains the Lutheran Confessions, which are the doctrinal statements of the Lutheran Church. The articles were presented to Catholic theologians in 1530 to explain the beliefs of Lutherans. The word "Lent" is only mentioned one time in the Book of Concord -- in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XV part 42 -- and it emphasizes giving sermons year-round instead of just during Lent. In the Lutheran faith, much emphasis is given to scripture and liturgy during the Lenten season. Acts of grace, such as helping the elderly, are also encouraged.

Major Differences

For Catholics, Lent is an obligatory Sacred Tradition. For Lutherans, who do not hold anything holy outside of Scripture, the season of Lent is observed, but fasting and penance are not viewed as compulsory. Therefore, Lutherans may voluntarily chose to fast during Lent, whereas Catholics are expected to do so. Theologian Martin Luther wanted to retain Lentan observation because it reminds Christians of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for man's sins. Aside from Lent's authority, most differences between the two churches are cultural. Catholics often refrain from eating meat on Friday during Lent, but this is not common among Lutherans. Also, Catholics put more emphasis on the Lenten tradition of reciting the Stations of the Cross that depict the suffering of Jesus in the hours preceding his crucifixion.