Lent for the year 2023 starts on Wednesday, February 22nd and
ends on Thursday, April 6th with evening mass on Holy Thursday.
Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. In the desire to renew the liturgical practices of the Church, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II stated, "The two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent -- the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance -- should be given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis. It is by means of them that the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God's word more frequently and devote more time to prayer" (no. 109). The word Lent itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words lencten, meaning "Spring," and lenctentid, which literally means not only "Springtide" but also was the word for "March," the month in which the majority of Lent falls.
Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making the practices not only simple but also easy. Ash Wednesday still marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. The present fasting and abstinence laws are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one's strength) and abstain from meat; on the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat. People are still encouraged "to give up something" for Lent as a sacrifice.
What did Jesus eat at the Last Supper?
The Seven Species (Shivat Haminim in Hebrew) are the seven types of fruits and grains named in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:8) as the main produce of the land of Israel. In ancient times these foods were staples of the Israelite diet. They were also important in the ancient Jewish religion because one of the Temple tithes derived from these seven foods. The tithe was called the bikkurim, which meant "first fruits."
Today the seven species are still important agricultural items in modern Israel but they no longer dominate the produce of the country as they once did. On the holiday of Tu B'Shvat it has become traditional for Jews to eat from the seven species.
The Seven Species in Deut 8:8 listed as evidence of a "good land" are everyday foods in Israel -- Wheat, barley, figs, grapes, olives, pomegranates, and dates -- with olives taking pride of place, showing up everywhere. Olives are an Israeli snack food, and every "Israeli Salad" of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers is dressed with just lemon juice and olive oil.
Would the Seven Species have been served at the Last Supper? Pomegranates are a fall fruit and so wouldn't be in season. Fresh grapes ripen later in the year, in the summer although it is said that Peter served both red and white grapes. Grapes in the form of wine was available year round. Dried figs and dates are possiblities, the dates could have also been made into sweet syrup, called "silan" in Hebrew . Surely olives could have graced the table.
As for wheat and barley, it would depend if there was grain left over from last years crop. If there were leftovers, then it could be eaten -- like today, bread was a staple in biblical times and barley was poor mans food, used in porridge and cakes. If it was from the new spring crop, it would be saved for an offering later in the Spring for Ha-Habikurim, the Festival of the First Fruits, also known as Pentecost or Shavout.
In addition to the Seven Species, Vetch - an ancient grain legume crop of the Mediterranean region similar to broad beans , along with barley, peas and lentils would appear among the first crops of the season.
What else might complete the menu of the Last Supper? According to Luke, Jesus asked Peter to fish the deep waters of the lake although he had been fishing the whole night without catching anything. This time, however, he caught so much tilapia the boats were overloaded. Tilapia, known as Peter's fish, is available in fish markets all over the Holy Land.
Spring lamb with mint sauce? Very unlikely to be served at the Last Supper, as meat was a rich man's food. Goat? Beef? Chicken? Probably not. Either too expensive or else saved for an offering at the Temple in Jerusalem. If meat was served there would have been no milk or dairy products served, as observant Jews do not eat meat and dairy products together at the same meal. But since meat was probably not served, goat's milk and still very popular "labne" yogurt, perhaps drizzled with honey or date syrup would have made for a delicious dessert.
Wild greens are free for the taking. Wild asparagus, Cape Sorrel - a bitter green that kids like to munch on, chickweed, and any number of spinach-like sprout up in springtime in fields all over Israel. Likewise spices such as oregano, thyme, bay leaves, sumac and hyssop - a main ingredient in the very popular spice blend called "zatar" - can be found growing wild. Forraging today has a special appeal to "foodies", but anyone on a budget - regardless of the era they live in - appreciates the bounty that nature provides gratis.
The Seven Species
Deuteronomy 8:8 tells us that Israel was "a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and date honey."
The seven species are:
Wheat (chitah in Hebrew)
Barley (se'orah in Hebrew)
Grapes (gefen in Hebrew), usually consumed as wine
Figs (te'enah in Hebrew)
Pomegranates (rimon in Hebrew)
Olives (zayit in Hebrew), usually consumed in oil form
Dates (tamar or d'vash in Hebrew)