Originating in the fourth century of the church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. But since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was the time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.
Lent has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Most Christian churches that observe Lent focus on the need we all have for God’s grace. It is a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.
Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday, is the first day of the Season of Lent. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ foreheads as a sign of humility before God. It is a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin. (See Reflections on Ash Wednesday). Ash Wednesday is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christian.
Lent is a way to place ourselves before God to humbly confess our total inadequacy. It is a time to remove all pretense to righteousness and to come before God in dust and ashes. It is a way to empty ourselves of our false pride, of our rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as creatures wholly dependent on God.
Through prayer, we seek to open ourselves up before God, and to hear anew the call "Come unto me!" We seek to recognize and respond afresh to God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We seek to place our needs, our fears, our failures, our hopes, our very lives in God’s hands, again. We seek to allow God's transforming grace to work in us once more, and to come to worship Him on Easter Sunday with a fresh hope that goes beyond the new clothes, the Spring flowers, and the happy music.