Lent is one of the most important seasons observed by Christians. It is a period of time between Ash Wednesday (February 10 this year) and Easter, and is geared towards spiritual purification, meditation and penance.
It lasts around 40 days, not including Sundays, drawing from the 40 days during which Jesus fasted in the desert before starting his public ministry.
Lent is observed by Catholics and a number of other Christian groups.
It is required of Catholics to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, many Catholics also observe the requirement of days past of not eating meat on any Friday during Lent, as a way of more fully engaging in the season. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting is also required. Fasting means having only one full meal on a day. Smaller quantities of food may be eaten at two other meals but no food should be consumed at any other time during the day.
While Lent is a season for Christians, some people of other faiths, or no faith, get involved. Coming not long after the Christmas/New Year period, it can be a good time to get back in shape by giving up – or temporarily quitting – some things which aren’t so good for us.
However, for Christians, it is a time to focus less on what they give up but more on how they can become more engaged in their spiritual lives.
This occurs in three key ways:
Prayer – by taking more time than usual to pray.
Fasting – apart from Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, many chose to give up things they usually enjoy. The main aim is to use some discipline over our normal habits, again as a way to become more aware of what is truly important – our relationship with God and our neighbours.
Almsgiving – an old fashioned word for giving to people who have less than us. For Catholics, a ready-made means of achieving this is to give to Caritas through its Project Compassion Appeal, by being in solidarity with the world's poor to help end poverty, promote justice and uphold dignity. See caritas.org.au/projectcompassion.