Roman Catholic traditions have been less severe. Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to forego meat every Friday in Lent. Fasting often means reducing consumption to one full meal a day rather than complete abstention from food.
In the West, many have encouraged a wide variety of cultural adjustments to the practice of fasting. Some practice a "fast" from some particular indulgence—chocolate, sweets, and wine are common choices—while others encourage a "fast" from regular practices that are time consuming and, perhaps, not conducive to the contemplation of God: watching television, listening to music, engaging in social media, texting, etc.
Prayer. Those who observe Lent inevitably use this time to renew their commitment to prayer and enrich its practice. Many turn to different forms of prayer as a way of refreshing their understanding and reigniting spiritual passion. Contemplative prayer—silent, wordless prayer—is frequently explored during Lent. Roman Catholics may engage more diligently in praying the rosary (a set of prayers and meditations on the life of Christ) and going to Adoration (a time of silent worship before the Consecrated Host). Christians of every tradition may choose to develop a time of family prayer or develop a prayer partnership with another believer during the weeks of Lent. Churches also often hold special prayer services during Lent.
Service. The three central practices of Lent—derived from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6:1-18)—are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The giving of alms—acts of charity and generosity to those in need—has always been part of church practice, just as it was a part of Jewish practice before the church began. Thus Christian worship services of all kinds nearly always include an offering, an opportunity for believers to voluntarily give money for the support of the church and the church's ministries. During Lent, this practice is augmented by other opportunities to give—either through financial support of a ministry to the poor, or through acts of service: volunteering at food banks or soup kitchens, building homes for the homeless, mentoring youth, preparing meals, visiting the sick or those in prison, tutoring children, etc.
Scripture. The weeks of Lent are a time to return to the scriptures in order to better listen to God and follow the path of Christ. Churches often offer special Bible studies on the life of Christ during the weeks of Lent; many Christians purchase Lenten devotionals that help them individually study scripture. One ancient practice of the church, lectio divina, has been recovered by many Christians as a way to read, meditate on, and prayerfully integrate the word of God into their lives. During lectio divina, the reader reads a passage from the Bible slowly, listening carefully for God to speak into his or her life through the words of the scripture.
Stations of the Cross. During Lent, many Christians engage in a meditative practice that focuses on the last hours of Jesus' life. This practice involves a series of fourteen stations, or places to pause and reflect on a singular event during Jesus' passion. These usually include some pictorial element for each station—a statue or artwork or small plaque—and invite individuals to move from one station to the next prayerfully as they remember Jesus' condemnation, suffering, death, and burial. Many meditative texts have been written to accompany this practice. The movement replicates the ancient practice of pilgrimage, during which believers would go to the holy places connected with Jesus' life and death.
Kathleen Mulhern is Executive Editor of Patheos. She teaches in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation at Denver Seminary and blogs at Dry Bones.