We don't especially associate the Rosary with Lent but there are good reasons why we will benefit from praying it at this time.
The Rosary has had a profound effect upon Catholic life for centuries. That is because it provides a simple way to contemplate the love of God in the life of Jesus with the best possible help to understand it. We pray in the company of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. With her help we can enter more fully into the heart of Jesus and his love. She knows what it is to live with Christ and be faithful to the end.
The great thing about the Rosary is that you can pray it any time any where. You can pray a little of it or the whole of it. Each moment will focus your attention on an event in the life of Jesus. Each moment can provide you with encouragement, or inspiration, or just comfort for you on your way.
It is easy to pray with the beads but you can count on your fingers if you wish. The saying of the "Our Father" the ten "Hail Mary's" and the "Glory be to the Father" provide a constant expression of praise. And as you pray you reflect on God's love in Jesus. During Lent it is specially appropriate to dwell on the sorrowful mysteries: the Agony and prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane; the scourging at the pillar; the crowning with thorns when he was mocked as King; the carrying of the cross and the moments of grace on the way; and finally the crucifixion in which the total giving of Jesus our Saviour is realised.
The ashes we receive on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are an annual reminder of the passage of time and our constant need of repentance, our need to change. The ashes were made from the burning of the palms which had been blessed last Palm Sunday. We had waved palms in praise of Christ at the beginning of Holy Week and now we must call to mind humbly that we have failed him many times since that day. Even in their origin therefore, the ashes show the passing of this world and all created things.
Centuries ago it was the custom, at the beginning of Lent, to sprinkle ashes on public sinners as they came into the church in repentance. Now, we acknowledge publicly that we are all sinners and in need of repentance. Carrying the ashes on our forehead indicates our willingness to do penance for our sins. The traditional words used as the ashes are placed provide a timely reflection: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return." The alternative verse used in many churches focuses our attention on the deep meaning of our Lenten observance: 'Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel'.
For Roman Catholics, there is an obligation to fast today (one main meal and two light meals in the course of the day) and to abstain from meat. The law of fasting obliges all Catholics except the sick between the ages of twenty one and fifty nine. The law of abstinence obliges all Catholics over the age of fourteen. At other times, for example, Fridays, Catholics must practice self-denial either by continuing to abstain or by any other act of self-denial such as attending Mass, making the Stations, saying extra prayers or by visiting the sick or lonely.
Today we begin the forty days of Lent. Ashes are a sign of mortality and penance. In accordance with ancient custom, all who attend Mass today approach the altar after the homily and the priest places ashes (often produced from the burnt palms of the Palm Sunday of the previous year) on the forehead of each person, saying either, 'Repent and believe the Gospel (Good News)' or 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return'.