The season of Lent is a Catholic (Christian) liturgical season consisting of forty days of fasting, prayer, and penitence beginning at Ash Wednesday and concluding at sundown on Holy Thursday. The official liturgical color for the season of Lent is violet. This year, Lent begins on March 6, 2019 and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday, April 18, 2019.
The word Lent derives from the Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime – the time of lengthening days. There is biblical support for doing penance, in both the Old and New Testaments. Ash Wednesday dates from at least the fourth century, although it is not possible to give an exact date. During that century, penitents looking for forgiveness and re-entry into the community would dress in sackcloth and sprinkle ashes to show their repentance. As Lent increasingly focused on the themes of repentance and renewal, Christians sensed their own need for repentance. The practice of distribution of ashes to all members of the community is mentioned in official documents of 1091.
Many Catholics were taught as children to “give up something” for Lent. Christians have found prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to be an important part of repentance and renewal. Many Catholics now add something during Lent rather than giving up something, either to address personal habits that need work or to add some outreach to others in need.
The Church does not specifically require that we do something beyond the requirements of fasting and abstinence. To do nothing, however, would certainly not be in keeping with the spirit of Lent. Furthermore, the sacrifices and extra things we do for Lent help us grow closer to Christ. We are missing out on so many graces if we do not participate fully in Lent. It is not necessary to be perfect, but we should put forth a good effort.
A good practice is to do something extra in prayer, something involving fasting (whether limiting our intake of food or giving up something non food-related), and something involving almsgiving (giving money or goods to the needy or doing extra acts of charity).