Lent is a 40 day time period of spiritual preparation for Easter characterized by repentance, prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Originating in the early church, Lent was originally a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized at Easter, as well as a time when those who had been separated from the church would prepare to rejoin thecommunity. Historical writings of Irenaeus, Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem show they believed the Apostles observed a similar time of Easter preparation.
The season of Lent spans 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy (Maunday) Thursday and Good Friday. It concludes the Saturday before Easter. Since Sundays are "mini celebrations" of the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent.
The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days of fasting Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His Ministry (Mark 1:12-13)
Ash Wednesday takes place on the seventh Wednesday before Easter, is the first day of the season of Lent. In order to spiritually prepare for Easter, we begin with repentance and mourning for our sins (2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21). During an Ash Wednesday service, a cross of ashes is traditionally applied to the forehead or the back of the hand to remind us we were created from dust and will one day return to dust (Genesis 3:19).
Many people feel that observing the entire season of Lent makes their Easter experience more meaningful. Walking with Jesus along the path of Lent, from the self-examination and repentance of Ash Wednesday through the darkness of Good Friday, helps us more fully celebrate the resurrection and redemption of Easter.