Why is Lent forty days long?
Because 40 days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible. Moses stayed on the Mountain of God 40 days (Ex 24:18, 34:28), Elijah traveled 40 days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kings 19:8), Nineveh was given 40 days to repent (Jon 3:4), and most importantly, prior to undertaking his ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness praying and fasting (Matt 4:2).
Since Lent if a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting for Christians to imitate their Lord with a 40-day period. Christ used a 40-day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for his ministry, which culminated in his death and resurrection, and thus it is fitting for Christians to imitate him with a 40-day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of his ministry's climax, Good Friday (His crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (His Resurrection).
Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "'For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning' [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert." (CCC 540).
Next: Why are the forty days called Lent?
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