If you are thinking of giving up visiting some social website for Lent, you may find yourself missing something. I have a vague memory of seeing a news item saying that Pope Benedict will be posting a short daily message every day during Lent @Pope2YouVatican. I have not succeeded in finding the message yet, but I will keep searching, and maybe become an online follower.
Lent has come a long way since it emerged as an institution sometime about the beginning of the 4th century. Since the earliest days of the Apostolic Church, it seems that the weekly Sunday assembly was the ongoing celebration of the Paschal Mystery in response to the Lord’s injunction “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22, 19).
Gradually over time the annual remembrance became established, though the Church in different parts had different dates for celebrating the event. These differences in the date for Easter continued until the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, when the Roman date was established for the universal Church.
The 40 days of Lent in anticipation of Easter seem to have begun as the weeks of preparation of those who were to receive Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Those who were already baptized were encouraged to join the candidates for Baptism in some of their preparations, including their prayers and fasting. Eventually those 6 weeks became established as a time for everyone to prepare to take part in re-living the Paschal Mystery through the ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter.
In the past it used to be common to ask someone, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I prefer to think in terms of, “What can I do for Lent?” Online there are websites presenting “Forty ways for forty days”, and many parishes are offering practical suggestions and opportunities. In one parish I saw a colorful poster with a short Scripture passage for each day of Lent, encouraging those who text their friends to include one daily message in keeping with the season.
Those who prefer the traditional way of Lent can find their inspiration in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday, where the Lord spoke of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (Matthew 6, 1-18). In the meantime I will keep searching for @Pope2YouVatican, in the hope of joining the ranks of those who follow Saint Peter’s successor online.