(From the St Andrew's Daily Missal)
Lent comprises two parts,the first of which commences on Ash Wednesday which is called in the liturgy "the beginning of the Holy Forty Days" and ends on Passion Sunday, while the second consists of the "great fortnight" known as Passiontide. Reckoning four Sundays in Lent, together with Passion and Palm Sundays, we find thirty-six fasting days, to which have been added the four days immediately preceding the First Sunday, in order to reach the number forty, "which originated with the Law and the Prophets and was hallowed by Christ Himself." The Mass for Ash Wednesday, although under a different name, existed already in the Gregorian Sacramentary.
Each Mass in Lent has its own station. As a matter of history in the course of the year, the Pope used to celebrate solemn Mass in one after another of the great basilicas, the twenty-five parish churches of Rome and in certain other sanctuaries, surrounded by all his clergy and by his people, and this was called "making the Station". This name which we still find in the Missal reminds us that Rome is the centre of Christian worship and stands to us for a liturgy more than twelve centuries old and formerly carried out with the greatest solemnity. Lent, when each day's Mass carries the indulgences attached to its particular station, is one of the most ancient of the liturgical seasons and the most important in the whole year. The Temporal Cycle, which is devoted to the contemplation of the mysteries of Christ, is brought to bear daily upon the faithful, while at other seasons it is more frequently the feasts of saints which are kept on the days of the week. And since the whole Christian life is summed up in the imitation of Christ, this season, when the Sanctoral Cycle is least in evidence, is particularly fruitful to our souls. It is only because of their special importance, that the Church gave a place in the Lenten liturgy, to the feasts of the Annunciation (March 25) and of Saint Matthias (February 24). If, as time went on there were added to these,other Masses in honour of the saints, it is none the less, precisely in the spirit of this season to choose by preference to say or hear the Mass of the feria; for during Lent, the principal Mass of the day, be it sung or said, ought to be of the feria on feasts of the greater double or any lesser rite. Further, on feasts of superior rite, i.e., of the first or second class such as the Annunciation, Saint Joseph and Saint Matthias, one Mass of the Feria is said, in addition to the Mass of the day in cathedrals, collegiate churches and monasteries, in order not to interrupt the preparation for Easter.
Consequently, if we wish to make a good Lent, it is important that we should try to assist daily at that Mass, in which our Mother the Church dictates to us, the thoughts which should occupy our minds during this holy season.
To show that the spirit of penance of the Septuagesima season has become still more prominent, the Church not only suppresses the Gloria and Alleluia, and puts her priests in violet vestments throughout this holy Forty Days, but she deprives the deacon and subdeacon of their dalmatic and tunicie, symbols of joy, and silences the organs in the churches. Accompanying the chant remains merely tolerated, and ceases after the Gloria on Maundy Thursday. Further, after the Postcommunions, is said a prayer over the people, following the humble cry: "Bow down your heads before God."
In former times, during this season the sittings of the Law Courts and all wars were suspended in the Christian commonwealth. It was also a "closed time" for marriages and still is in our days, in the sense that at this time of the year, the Church does not allow the solemn blessing to be given to the bridal pair. In the ages when faith was at its strongest, the Church exhorted married couples to practice continence throughout the whole period of this "solemn fast ".
"Behold, now is the acceptable time: behold, now is the day of salvation. Let us commend ourselves in much patience, in frequent fastings, by the armour of justice of the power of God. Let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God in much patience, in many fastings" (Response at Matins for the First Sunday of Lent).