The Season of Lent - a time of preparation for Easter, the greatest feast of the church - will officially begin on Wednesday, March 9.

For those of the Roman Catholic faith, the start of the 6-1/2-week penitential season is officially known as Ash Wednesday, a day in which parishioners receive ashes on their forehead in the sign of the cross, the sign of baptism, to remind them Lent is a time of baptismal renewal. The ashes are made from burned palms left over from the palms that were distributed on Palm Sunday last year.

In anticipation of Easter Sunday on April 24, church-goers traditionally abide by laws of fasting through the next month and a half. Church law considers every Friday in the season of Lent as penitential days. The practice of penance is a part of the Catholic faith and Christian life. Under church theory, those who do penance imitate Jesus Christ, who Himself recommended it as necessary to His followers, and gave them the example of His prayer and fasting.

The Lenten obligation, as determined for Catholics in the U.S. by its bishops, requires the law of abstinence be observed on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent.

Fasting applies to all Catholics who are between the ages of 18-59. The obligation ceases when one begins his/her 60th year. Abstinence applies to all Catholics who are 14 years and older. The observance of fasting means that those obliged may take only one full meal on the day of fast. Two lighter meals (not equal to another full meal) may be taken to maintain strength according to one's needs. The law of abstinence forbids the eating of meat, including poultry. Voluntary abstinence refers to refraining from lawful pleasures in a spirit of penance.