But the other traditional practice is to also do something extra by way of prayer.
Extra prayer during Lent - say a psalm (verse) or two!
Last year I suggested saying the penitential psalms, a very traditional practice. If you want to go down that track, you might want to take a look at the series on them that I posted here past year.
To provide some variety, however, I thought this year I'd suggest saying some of Psalm 118 (119) each day. Psalm 118 (119) is an extended meditation on the importance of God's law. It is a psalm above all about the path to happiness, as its first line makes clear:
"Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!"
Psalm 118 as a traditional Lenten penance
Psalm 118 (119 in the neo-Vulgate and protestant Bibles) has a venerable history as an appropriate prayer during Lent.
Over at Vultus Christi blog, for example, Fr Mark recently republished a letter found in a late medieval copy, purporting to be from St Scholastica, sister of St Benedict, to a fellow abbess and discussing Lenten practices in her monastery. One of the examples of Lenten penance she provides is the recitation of Psalm 118:
"My venerable brother says that during this sacred season we are “to increase in some way the normal standard of our service, as for example, by special prayers, or by a diminution in food or drink” (RB 49:5-6)... Nonna Marcellina asked me if she might pray the Beati immaculati (Psalm 118) daily through Lent. She knows it by heart, of course."
Psalm 118 as preparation to enter the Temple
Psalm 118 is particularly appropriate for Lent in that it is a wisdom-meditation psalm that can help us get into the right frame of mind to celebrate the joy of Easter.
In Scripture, Psalm 118 comes immediately before the 'Psalms of Ascent' or Gradual Psalms, which are associated literally with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for major Jewish feasts and the climb up the steps of the Temple, and spiritually with the Ascent to heaven. This placement is not random!
It is meant to signal to us that reflection on the Law of God as a necessary preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection.
And in that light, it struck me as particularly appropriate, too, this year, at least for Australian readers, by way of preparation for the coming Year of Grace.
A stanza a day?
The letter I quoted above suggested saying the entire psalm daily. That's a big ask: the longest psalm in the psalter, it has 176 verses in total!
But it is neatly divided into twenty-two stanzas of eight verses.
In fact, this is an alphabetical psalms, so each set of eight verses starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Accordingly, one option would be to pray and meditate on one stanza a day, lingering over a few important verses.
And to help anyone who is interested in saying Psalm 118, I'll provide some notes here each day on the psalm, as well as some supplementary notes for those interested in digging further over at my Psalm Blog.