“The 40 days of Lent” has always been more of a metaphor than a literal count. Over the course of history the season of preparation for Easter Sunday has ranged from one day (in the first century) to 44 (today in the Roman church). Officially since 1970, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sunset on Holy Thursday.
Already at the Council of Nicea in 325 the bishops spoke of the quadragesima paschae (Latin for “40 days before Easter”) as the well-established custom. At that time Lent began on the sixth Sunday before Easter and ended at dusk on Holy Thursday—40 days. But the council also forbade fasting, kneeling, and any other acts of sorrow and penance on Sundays, even in Lent. So only 34 of the 40 days were for fasting.
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