My forehead now featuring a blackish smudge, I can say that Lent has truly begun. It feels as if Christmas was just a few weeks ago, but Lent actually isn’t particularly early this year. From now until Easter, the liturgy of the Mass will be sober. There won’t be any ‘alleluiah’ or Gloria, for example, and decorative elements are removed from the sanctuary as far as possible. All this to make the period of fasting and abstinence visible as something performed by the entire Church.
In the past, Lent used to be stricter than it is now. Now only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (like every Friday) are days of fasting. The rest of Lent holds no obligation to fast. Personally, I believe this has contributed to a diminished awareness of what Lent (and consequently Easter) is, so I’ll have none of it. Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and abstinence, with only the Sundays as breaks (the Sunday is by definition a feast day).
Easter is the high point of the liturgical year and a period of preparation, by consciously given things up and realigning oneself to God, seems far from unreasonable. Because Easter, the salvation by Christ, is quite something. It is all that Christianity is about. We can simply not afford to let it pass virtually unnoticed.
So my forehead smudge of ashes indicates my willingness to prepare myself, to give up some creature comforts and refocus myself on God. And I’ll do my very best to live up to that.