Today is Wednesday, of course, so there was a General Audience, and later this afternon, evening, the Pope, as is traditional, will celebrate Mass at the Dominican church of St. Sabina on the Aventine.
Here is the Vatican's page on Lent 2007, that contains a schedule of celebrations, texts of the Holy Father's homilies during the season. It has a lovely graphic of Pope Benedict receiving ashes. You'll note that the European way is different (or is it just Italian? I don't know) - the ashes are sprinkled on top of the head - more in keeping with Scripture and ancient Jewish/Christian tradition of mourning and penitence.
Speaking during the general audience, Benedict XVI said that Ash Wednesday, which he will celebrate this afternoon in the Roman basilica of Santa Sabina, introduces the period of the 40 days separating it from Easter “a time of listening to the Word, prayer and penitence: days in which to revive the stages of salvation”.
The pope recalled that in the early Church, Lent was a “time of immediate preparation for Baptism, to be administered during the Easter vigil” as an invitation to “rediscover” and to give new strength to baptism. Today it has become a “renewed catechumenate to renew our baptism in depth”, “an occasion to become Christians again”.
A time of conversion, then, because “conversion is never made forever”, rather it is a “journey” which “cannot be limited to a particular time, it must embrace the entire span of our existence, every day of our life.” Converting, in the words of the pope, means “seeking God”, “going with God”, “humbly following the teachings of his son Jesus”: “It is not an effort to realize ourselves”, because “the human being is not architect of himself, we did make ourselves.” “Conversion consists precisely in not thinking that we are our own creators, and thus discovering the truth, accepting with love to depend in everything on love from God” because “depending on this love is not dependence but freedom”. “It is no use pursing our personal success, which is something that passes”. Rather, for the Christian, Christ must become “my all in all”, said the pope, citing as phrase of Mother Teresa.
In Lent, then, we are ever more stimulated to “tear out” the roots of vanity, to “educate our heart to love God”. The sincere desire for God “leads us to reject evil and to do good, which is above all a free gift of God”, “our true happiness”. This is why Lent, “while inviting us to reflect and to pray, also urges us to emphasize penitence, prayer and fasting” and works of charity towards our brothers, “spiritual paths to follow to return to God in response to the continued calls of conversion in today’s liturgy.”
May the Lenten period, added Benedict XVI, “be for all a renewed experience of the merciful love of God, who on the cross poured out his blood for us. Let us submit ourselves humbly to his teaching to learn how to give, once again, our love to our neighbours in our turn, especially those who are in difficulties.”
The Vatican site contains a section dedicated to the Stational Churches (the following is from Catholic Culture)
Stational or station churches are churches in Rome designated to be the special location for worship on a particular day. This practice dates back to the early centuries of the Church. The Pope (or his legate) would celebrate solemn Mass in one after another of the four greater and the three minor basilicas during the 4th and 5th centuries (the seven churches or Sette Chiese — St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, St. Lawrence, and the Twelve Apostles). Other churches were added to list as needed for various liturgical occasions, bringing the total number of churches to 45, with the last two (Santa Agatha and Santa Maria Nuova, called Santa Franciscan Romana) added by Pope Pius XI on March 5, 1934. When the popes started residing in Avignon, France in 1305, the popularity of this devotion declined until recently.
On the day of the station, the faithful would gather in one church (church of the collecta or gathering) and in procession singing the Litany of the Saints or psalms, they would go to the church where the Mass was to be celebrated: there they met the Pope and his clergy, coming in state from his Patriarchal Palace of the Lateran. This was called "making the station." Such a Mass was a "conventual mass" (or community Mass) of the City and the world, Urbis et Orbis (the visible congregation in Rome and the invisible audience of the entire world). This old custom reminds us that Rome is the center of Christian worship, from which we received our faith and our liturgy.
As I said, the Vatican site has a section on these churches, but the church descriptions are in Italian. A better resources is the most excellent offering from the North American College - it's an interactive map, with history and descriptions of each church. The seminarians from the PNAC process to the stational churches each day for Mass - mostly on foot, although I have heard of a motorcycle or two come into use once in a while - looking at the map, you can see what a hike it is, especially when you get to Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday.
Some more Lenten resources:
It’s short but packs a punch. It tells you that Lent is spiritual warfare, and why the demons hate our guts. And it’s by the guy who turned back Attila the Hun.
Finally, Archbishop Gomez of San Antonio has today issued a pastoral letter on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. An excerpt (pdf format)
13. Jesus and his apostles listed many different types of sins.10 “All wrongdoing is sin,” the apostle John said (1 John 5:17). Our everyday faults, also known as “venial” sins, weaken our love for God and for our neighbor, but they do not deprive us ultimately of his grace and friendship.
Certain sins, however, can cause the love in our hearts to grow cold and die. These sins involve transgressions of God’s laws as set forth in the Ten Commandments. The commandments define our obligations to love God and our neighbors. Our Lord said that if we want to enter into eternal life we must keep the commandments (Matt. 19:16–19). However, if we choose to break one of these commandments with full knowledge that what we are doing is sinful, we commit “mortal” or deadly sin (1 John 5:16-17). “One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.”
Mortal sins destroy the bonds of grace and love that unite us to God and to his Church. We must confess these sins and seek God’s forgiveness in the sacrament ofreconciliation. Failure to seek God’s mercy in the sacrament puts our eternal souls at risk, and can result in our spiritual death.
14. I realize that such language about sin and judgment is rarely heard anymore. Under the influence of our highly secularized society, we have lost that lively awareness of what the Church’s tradition calls the “four last things”: death, judgment, hell, and heaven.14 But we are called to a mature faith, my brothers and sisters. We want to stand confidently before our Lord, with full assurance that we know his will for our lives (1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Col. 4:12). We must not let ourselves be confused or led astray by a culture that would have us avoid truths of the Gospel we might find challenging or uncomfortable.
15. It is true that our merciful Father has created each of us out of love and that he desires to make us holy and to live in communion and friendship with us, beginning in this world and continuing for all eternity in the world to come. This is the beautiful hope of our faith.
But our Lord made clear that evil and sin could thwart our path to heaven. He described sin as a kind of voluntary slavery (John 8:34) and warned that it could ruin us if we do not open ourselves to his Gospel (Luke 13:3, 5). He taught that we could freely choose to say “no” to God and to exclude ourselves from communion with him—even for all eternity. At the end of our lives, we will be judged by our love for God and for our neighbor.
16. However, let us not reduce the Gospel to something negative. Jesus did not come only to warn us about the wages of sin. He came not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:16–17). He wants every one to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). That is why he left us this powerful sacrament by which we are reconciled to God—so that none of us would be lost, so that all of us would come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
17. Jesus came to bring us a new and abundant life (John 10:10–11). To enter into this new life means we must move beyond a fearful or merely legalistic approach to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
It remains an essential law of the Church that we must confess our serious sins once a year, and that if we have committed mortal sin we must receive the sacrament beforecoming again to communion. But we must never forget that this sacrament is also a positive spiritual weapon given to us by our Lord to help us in our journey to holiness and communion with God.
18. I can testify from my own life to the healing power of this sacrament received regularly. I invite you too, my brothers and sisters, to experience this for yourselves. Regular celebration of this sacrament will help you form your conscience; it will give you strength in your daily fight against sin; and it will help you to gain the full freedom that is yours as children of God.
I urge you, my brothers, to rediscover the power of this sacrament. In order to lead others to fight sin and to strive for holiness, you must yourselves be faithful penitents. Let your joy and trust in this sacrament then animate your sacred calling as ministers of mercy.
38. The time has come also, my brothers, for bold new initiatives to make this encounter with the merciful heart of our Father more widely available. We need a new preaching and a new catechesis to bring people back to this fountain of the Lord’s grace and healing. This will call for even more creativity and self-sacrifice from you.
To all of us:
32. Only the sincere and mutual search for forgiveness and reconciliation can bring us the peace and satisfaction we seek in our world today. That is why I believe that a rediscovery of the sacrament of forgiveness would be a prophetic sign.
The reconciliation that the entire world longs for begins in the confessional. The confessional is the great school of mercy. It is in the confessional that the saints and martyrs learned and received the strength to love their enemies and forgive their persecutors.
33. We must keep the stories of our saints and blesseds alive in our land! Our American Catholic culture and heritage is one of peace, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. In this heritage—in our saints, sacraments, and traditions—we find values that our culture has forgotten but desperately needs to remember.
Let us remind our culture of people like Blessed Luis Magna Servin, one of our newest American blesseds, a devoted husband and father, martyred in Mexico in 1928. Facing a firing squad, he was able to speak words of forgiveness to the soldiers about to execute him: “I pardon you and I promise you that on arriving in the presence of God you are the first ones I will intercede for. Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Santa Maria de Guadalupe!”
34. This is the spirit that our country needs and our world needs. As Christians, we must bear witness to what it means to be reconciled to God and to our brothers and sisters.