Lent is a time of preparation for the death of Christ on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is a period of 40 days of repentance, with prayer, fasting and abstinence, and Confession.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday.
Wait!! 46 days!!
I thought we just established that Lent was 40 days long!!
The answer takes us back to the earliest days of the Church. Christ's original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.
Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ's Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days.
Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ's fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count.
Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that's how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent!
Here at school, we will begin our time of preparation with grade level Ash Wednesday Services in the Cafetorium. Students lead prayers and are part of the Team of people that are distributing the blessed ashes.