Lent is the season of the church year that stretches from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve. The Teutonic word Lent, originally meant no more than the spring season. It is 40 days plus 6 Sundays long and is the traditional time of spiritual preparation for the great Easter Feast. Holy Week, the last week leading up to Easter is considered a part of Lent. It includes Maundy Thursday, (the day of foot washing and commemorating the time of Jesus' Last Supper), Good Friday (commemorating the time Jesus spent on the cross), and the Easter Vigil, (a candlelight service on Saturday evening which traditionally includes lighting the paschal fire, baptisms, and the first Eucharist of Easter.) The three days, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are called the Easter Triduum.
The traditional color of the altar cloth and vestments for Lent are purple, although some churches have what is called the Lenten Array in which the vestments are made of sackcloth with red and black trim. There are no altar flowers during Lent as a reminder of the solemnity of the season. An Emmanuel tradition on Shrove Tuesday is to bury a sign painted with the word "Alleluia" as a reminder that during Lent we leave out the use of that word, again as an expression of solemnity. It is unearthed at the Easter Vigil.
During Lent three spiritual practices have been traditional in the church for hundreds of years. They are prayer, alms (the giving of one's time, talent and/or treasure to a charity), and fasting. Fasting may consist of giving up some food item, a particular day of the week in which one does without food, or the giving up of something that is considered a luxury, (one year our family gave up television for Lent). It may also include giving up a destructive habit. Another Lenten discipline is to take something on, such as some extra time of spiritual reading each day.
The purpose of all of these Lenten preparations and disciplines is the renewal of one's relationship with God and a fresh and deeper commitment to the Christian life. May this season be one of rich spiritual rebirth for all of us!