Lent is a Catholic liturgical season consisting of forty days of fasting, prayer, and penitence beginning at Ash Wednesday and concluding at sundown on Holy Thursday. The purpose is to prepare oneself for the celebration of Easter. The official liturgical color for the season of Lent is violet. This year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14th.

The word Lent, comes from the Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime. Lent, like all Catholic liturgical seasons, developed over time. In its early form, Lent was the three-week period of intense spiritual and liturgical preparation for those wanting to become Christians, before they were baptized at Easter.

By the fourth century, when Christianity was legalized, Lent developed into its current length of forty days, the length of the fast and temptation of Jesus in the desert. In addition, the development of Lent was also influenced by the forty-day span of fasting practiced by many monks in the early Church. This fast, beginning right after Epiphany (January 6th) stressed prayer and penance.

Today, the Catholic Church, asks all Catholics to fast adn abstain from meat on certain days during Lent. Fasting means to limit food to one full meal a day with the possibility of two smaller meals, as needed. Abstinence means not eating meat, although fish is allowed. Catholics, 14 years of age or older, are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. Catholics between the ages of 14 and 59 are also to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, if one’s work or health make it inadvisable to fast or abstain from meat, they are not obligated to do so.

Ask Catholics what they are doing for Lent this year, and they will probably tell you that they are giving up a favorite food or a favorite pastime. Giving up something for Lent fosters self-discipline and tempers our desires. It is a form of fasting, penance, and promotes spiritual growth. Many Catholics now “add something” during Lent rather than giving up something. They choose to do something positive to bolster their spiritual life and to make the world a better place.

What is Lent? For Catholics, basically, you do not get the joy of Easter without the self-sacrifice of Lent; the disciples of Jesus follow in his footsteps.