As Maronite’s we celebrate Ash Monday. In the West, Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of the Lenten season.
The Maronite Lenten season begins with the “Entrance into Great Lent” on Cana Sunday. The fast starts on Monday because Maronites do not fast on the day of the Resurrection.
In the Western Syriac tradition the Monday Lenten Liturgy was originally the “Monday of oil”.
Oil is used for purification and is referred to in many contexts. The Syriac writer consistently refer to it. “Stained bodies are anointed with the sanctifying oil with a view to expiation. They are purified but not destroyed. They descend marked by sin and arise pure as a child” (St Ephrem).
The Maronite Church, influenced by Ash Wednesday in the Latin Church, has later adopted into the Monday liturgy the blessing and distribution of the Ashes.
Which brings us to another question.
Why is Great Lent for Maronite’s more than forty days?
The forty days originates from Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” Luke 4:1-2
The Maronite Church commemorates the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness on the fortieth day of Maronite Lent (it has its own Liturgy). That falls on the Friday before Hosanna Sunday (Palm Sunday for Roman Catholics). From Cana Sunday to temptation Friday in the week of Bartimaeus the Blind we get exactly 40 days. The next day we enter Passion Week with Lazarus Saturday, which is really its own Liturgical period and seperate from the 40 days.