For some unknowable reason, this year as Lent approaches all kinds of pensive, thoughtful, and almost yearning thoughts and emotions have been swirling in my -- hm. --well, they're in my chest, actually. I may or may not write about it here as Lent goes on, but I thought I'd post an answer to What Is Lent? At least, if you read this little blog, and if this part of it is interesting at all for you, you'll know what I mean by this (mostly an) oddity. This is not something I do on my own - this season is kept as a member of a specific community. In our part of Christendom, here is the answer to,
What is Lent?
Lent begins for us on Ash Wednesday, with the Penitential Office and the Imposition of Ashes, in the ancient tradition of mourning and repentance. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the forty days of Lent, the season preceding the highest feast day of the Christian Year, the Feast of the Resurrection, which we commonly call Easter. On Ash Wednesday, the priest makes the sign of the cross on our foreheads, and says the ancient words,
Remember, o man, that dust thou art,
And to dust thou shalt return.
And now for Lent itself.
How many days are there in the season of Lent?
There are forty days in the season of Lent.
Why do we observe Lent for forty days?
In remembrance and imitation of Our Lord’s being tempted by Satan in the wilderness for forty days, we keep the Lenten fast for forty days, so that we too might put Satan behind us.
What days of the week are included in the forty days?
All days except Sunday are included during the forty days of Lent, which is always a Christian feast day because it is an echo of the one Easter Sunday.
How many days are in Eastertide?
There are forty days in the season of Eastertide, and every Sunday is included in those forty days.
During the season of Lent, what do Christians do?
During Lent, it is common and traditional Christian practice to:
...abstain from the eating of flesh meat, in honor of Our Lord’s sacrifice of his own flesh for us, on all Fridays (as throughout the year) and Wednesdays (as echoes of the first Wednesday in Lent, Ash Wednesday). Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the two most strict fast and abstinence days of the Christian year.
...abstain from luxuries of meat and drink, such as desserts, wine and other alcoholic drink, and from frivolous luxuries of life such as attendance at movies or restaurants, or the sort of television viewing or reading which may be too distracting from the Lenten quiet.
...fast on all the days of Lent. (Sundays are never fast days, and are not included in the forty days.) Ordinary Lenten fasting is the eating of one ordinary meal, and two smaller meals that would together make the portions of one meal. If age or health make the Lenten fast too difficult, you must not injure yourself by following it too strictly. Similarly, if your work requires more food than a fasting diet would provide, you must eat enough to do your work well, and not defraud your neighbor by reason of your fast.
...take on some additional acts of discipline and devotion. Commonly, this would include such things as extra attendance at Mass, daily examinations of conscience and the making of a good confession either weekly or at the end of Lent (Holy Saturday is a common day for making an Easter confession), faithfully saying the Morning Prayer and/or Evening Prayer office from the Book of Common Prayer or using some other daily devotional aid to prayer, and the reading of spiritually helpful books. Some collect the money saved from luxury spending and use it instead for charitable giving such as parish or missions work, meeting the needs of those less fortunate, or some other special project.
...“fight manfully” against some particular weakness of character during the forty days by exercising its opposite virtue. One might practice looking especially for kind things to say to fight a habit of criticism, or look for ways to serve other people in order to combat a habit of selfishness, or rise in the morning half an hour before necessary to combat the spirit of sloth. During Lent, we look for ways to replace a vice with its corresponding virtue.
In order to decide one’s best course for Lent each year, it is wise and advisable to consult with a clergyman or spiritual adviser as to one’s own Lenten Rule. Lent is not a time for self-punishment or meaningless deprivations, but is instead a time of increased self-discipline for the purpose of mastery. During Lent, we learn afresh to master our physical lives and bodies so that we may come more fully to present our souls and bodies to our heavenly Father to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice .
CollectThe Collect shall be said every day in Lent, after the Collect appointed for the day, beginning on Ash Wednesday until Palm Sunday.
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.