Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday.
Lent is the period of fasting that precedes Easter. In the early church, the length of this fast varied from region to region, being anywhere from one day to forty days in length. The liturgical season of Lent lasts for 40 weekdays in remembrance of the 40 days and nights that Christ spent fasting in the desert, tempted by Satan. The beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, therefore comes 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter. Lent, in commemoration of Christ’s fasting and prayer is for all His faithful a time of fasting and prayer.
The temptations of Jesus in the desert recapitulate the temptation of Adam in Paradise and the temptations of Israel in the desert. Satan tempts Jesus in regard to his obedience to the mission given him by the Father. Christ, the new Adam, resists and his victory proclaims that of his Passion which is the supreme obedience of his filial love. The Church unites herself to this mystery in a special way in the liturgical season of Lent.
During Lent and other various seasons of the year, and in keeping with her traditional discipline, the Church completes the formation of the faithful by means of pious practices for soul and body, by instruction, prayer, and works of penance and mercy. The traditional customs and discipline of the sacred season are preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times. Their specific character is retained so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of the Christian redemption and, above all, the paschal mystery.
Two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent—the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance—is given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis. Penance can be expressed in many and various ways but above all in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These and many other forms of penance are practiced in the daily life of a Christian, particularly during the time of Lent. It is by means of these that the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God’s word more frequently and devote more time to prayer.
“Paul allows ‘by permission’ one who is in such a condition to contract a second marriage. To illustrate, suppose that in the fast that prepares us for the Easer celebration, one offers food to another who is dangerously ill, saying, ‘In truth, my friend, it would be fitting and good that you should bravely hold out like us and participate in the same things—for it is forbidden even to think of food today. However, since you are held down and weakened by disease and cannot bear it, therefore, ‘by permission’ we advise you to eat food. Otherwise, you might perish, being quite unable to hold out against your desire for food because of your sickness.’”—Saint Methodius
Bercot, David W., ed. “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs.” Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000.
Flannery, Austin, O.P., ed. “Vatican Council II, Volume I, The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents.” Northport, New York: Costello Publishing, 2004.