Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. The Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the Paschal Mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation, and the faithful, through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices.
Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive. The Alleluia is not used from the beginning of Lent until the Easter Vigil. On Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent and is observed everywhere as a fast day, ashes are distributed.
The Sundays of this season are called the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. The Sixth Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, is called Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). Holy Week has as its purpose the remembrance of Christ’s passion, beginning with his Messianic entrance into Jerusalem. At the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning the bishop, concelebrating Mass with his presbyterate, blesses the oils and consecrates the chrism
Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, n27-31
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday in February or March, depending on the date of Easter. On Ash Wednesday people receive a mark on the forehead made with ashes as a reminder that "we are dust and unto dust we shall return". The ashes symbolise our mortality and need for the mercy of God.
Lent lasts for forty days, which commemorates the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, and the forty years the Israelites spent in the desert. (The six Sundays of Lent are not included in the calculation of the forty days.)
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving or good works are the traditional activities of Lent. During this time we reflect on the salvation won for us by Jesus Christ through his suffering, death and resurrection, and on the events which led up to his death. Lent is a time for self-examination and repentance, as we strive to conform our lives more closely to Christ.
During Lent the final preparation of the catechumens intensifies, marked by events in the liturgy, as they prepare for their baptism and/or reception into the Church at Easter.
The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and is the most sacred week of the Church’s year. It begins on the sixth Sunday of Lent, Passion (Palm) Sunday, which commemorates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, welcomed by people waving palms and acclaiming him as the Messiah.
In the first part of Holy Week, usually on the Wednesday evening, the Chrism Mass takes place. During this Mass the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil of chrism are blessed by the bishop, and taken from the Mass to all the parishes of the diocese. The priests of the diocese renew their commitment of service during the Chrism Mass and the congregation prays for them.
The beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Triduum.
The liturgical colours of Lent are violet or purple.