Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
This Lent, you are encouraged to raise up the needs of the world in prayer, to sacrifice by giving up food and material wants, and to offer your time, talent and treasure as good stewards of the gifts God has given you.
During Lent, the Church asks us to surrender ourselves to prayer and to the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. The fasting that all do together on Fridays is but a sign of the daily Lenten discipline of individuals and households: fasting for certain periods of time, fasting from certain foods, but also fasting from other things and activities. Likewise, the giving of alms is some effort to share this world equally—not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents. Contemplate the meaning and origins of the Lenten fasting tradition in this reflection.
In Lent, the baptized are called to renew their baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a period of learning and discernment for individuals who have declared their desire to become Catholics.
The key to fruitful observance of these practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ's death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.
On these pages, you will find a variety of suggestions and resources to help you "raise up," "sacrifice," and "offer" during this Lent and to embrace your baptismal commitment.
Catholics are also encouraged to make going to confession a significant part of their spiritual lives during Lent. The U.S. Bishops' statement, "God's Gift of Forgiveness: The Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation" can be distributed and shared in parishes. Dioceses are encouraged to make the sacrament available often during Lent and to use these resources to promote participation. We also have resources to help individuals who have not been to confession in a while "rediscover" the sacrament.
Here are the guidelines for Fast and Abstinence:
Customarily, fasting required that a person take only one meal a day, but current Church discipline permits one to take a main meal and two lesser meals which together do not equal the main meal.__________________
All persons who have reached their 14th birthday are bound by the law of abstinence. All adults are bound by the law of fast from their 18th to their 60th year.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of abstinence from meat and meat products as well as days of fast.
The other Fridays of Lent remain days of abstinence from meat and meat products.
The Fridays of the year outside Lent remain days of penance, but the traditional abstinence from meat may be substituted with some other practice of voluntary self-denial or personal penance. This may be physical denial, self-restraint or acts of religion, charity or Christian witness.
Questions and Answers about Lent and Lenten Practices