What Is Lent?
In the Christian tradition, Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, which is the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. It is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent for the believer is to prepare through prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. This period of penitential preparation for Easter is set aside as forty days, excluding Sundays, beginning with Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday (Easter Eve), which marks the beginning of the Easter season.
During this season of preparation, some people fast or give up something important to them. Some spend time in study, devotion, and/or prayer. Others cut back on their social lives and dedicate more time to service in the community. It is a time of self-sacrifice and reflection. Our giving up things we enjoy becomes a love gift to God, given in adoration and praise. Our making a sacrifice, big or small, helps us to remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us.
Sundays are not counted when we calculate the length of Lent, and are considered "little Easters." In the western church, Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter. In many countries, the last day before Lent is called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching. It has become a last fling before the solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for "farewell to meat." The practice of fasting mirrors the time that Christ spent fasting in the wilderness before His ministry began.