As a Catholic, I have always found Lent to be an extraordinary time of the year for me spiritually. It is a time of self reflection, prayer and sacrifice in preparation for the time when we remember the ultimate sacrifice Christ made of himself on the cross as well as his Resurrection - which is the highest feast day on our calendar. Even the seasons in which Lent and Easter occur seem to echo the meaning of these observances -- going through the final days of the darkness and death of winter (Lent) while looking forward to the light and new birth of spring (Easter).
For "Traditional" Catholics like me (those of us who observe the customs and forms of worship prior to the changes made in the 1960s following Vatican II), Lent begins a bit more gradually than it does in the current Liturgical books -- still beginning officially on Ash Wednesday, but with a time of introduction known as the Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.
These Sundays loosely translated refer to 70, 60 and 50 days before Easter -- Lent being the 40 days of official penance and fasting in preparation for Easter. Obviously they are not exact number of days, but the idea is that this season is so important that we enter into it gradually to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead which officially commences on Ash Wednesday.
I always found the names of these Sundays to be just plain cool -- terminology in the older Rite always sounds so much more profound. I do admit however, that my immature American mentality does at times giggle at hearing the term Sexagesima -- and don't pretend you didn't too upon reading it. It's ok -- as staunchly traditional as I am when it comes to the Liturgy, I think God has a sense of humor too and giggles occasionally Himself.
In the 1970s when a small group of Church officials decided to "modernize" things (that usually never ends up being a really good thing...) they wanted to stream line everything -- make it "simpler" and easier to understand. This approach in and of itself confuses me -- we live in an age of smart phones and Google where any question can be answered by simply typing it into your phone. This would be THE TIME then to dig deeper into such subjects, not keep them at a bare-minimum level of presentation or understanding.
This "simplification" also applied to other major feasts where the preparation and conclusion of these feasts were either scaled back or eliminated. -- Octaves after holidays are hardly heard of anyway -- meaning celebrating the feast for 8 days after the actual day -- giving people a time to reflect and enjoy the feast day. Americans are awesome at practicing "simplifications" like this --- as noted by Christmas tress out to the curb on December 26th.
It saddens me that there is still a movement in the Church to simplify, simplify, simplify in an effort to make the faith more comprehensible to people. I believe it has had the opposite effect -- we've watered things down so much that they no longer seem important at all. Lent for example seems to mean little more to main stream Catholics than wearing ashes on your forehead to work/school on Ash Wednesday, enjoying fish fries on Fridays and maybe giving up something during Lent that you really didn't like anyway - and not understanding why you're giving up anything to begin with.
Personally, I think the Church would be far more effective if it simplified it's social teachings and went back more to the fullness of its spirituality. Welcoming more diversity of peoples and better understanding their circumstances while worshiping in the amazing and inspiring living traditions of our ancestors passed down through the ages --- rather than white washing everything yet sticking to hard line social teachings that never seem to get updated or simplified.
*gets off soapbox*
By the way -- this Sunday is Sexagesima Sunday. *giggles*