Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and alms giving in preparation for Easter. Lent 2016 began on Ash Wednesday- 1st March, and lasts until Holy Thursday (13th April). During this time of Lent, we are helped by the Church to focus on three ways to draw closer to God:
Prayer, Fasting & Alms Giving
Following the example of the Nine vites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told "Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience.
The Church used to prescribe very rigorous rules for the Lenten fast (including abstinence from all meat and eating only one meal per day). The current rules, however, are much more lax. We are only required to fast on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and on Good Friday, the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. Anyone over the age of 18, but under the age of 59, should eat only one full meal on those days, although they can also have small amounts of food in the morning and the evening.
Caritas Lenten Appeal