Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is also the 10th anniversary of Sacred Space, the prayer website established by Irish Jesuits in their communications centre in Dublin.

The site, which guides the visitor through prayer, is available in almost 20 languages, with up to 20,000 visitors worldwide logging on every day.

Site editor, Fr Piaras Jackson, is expecting a big increase in visitors today.

"We often see even more people logging on to pray on dates with religious significance," he said.

Fr Jackson said the computer is now what the prayer book was for many years ago.

"For many people, the computer is where everything happens — it’s where they keep notes, make appointments, get information. So it is no surprise that it’s also where people pray," he said.

And the website has developed beyond daily prayer to include scripture commentaries, areas to write and send prayers, email greeting cards, novenas and audio.

"This is very much in line with the Jesuit approach to prayer," said Fr Jackson. "From the spiritual exercises to operas, Jesuits have always tried to help people find engaging and imaginative connections with the gospel."

He said the feedback left by visitors showed they felt part of a worldwide community of prayer.

"The messages we get range from longer and detailed enquiries to the short text-like ones such as ‘You guys rock! Thank you for all you do’."

Editor of the Irish Catholic, Garry O’Sullivan said Lent had come even earlier for many people because of the economic crisis. "The warning given by Jesus about the dangers of people storing up treasures for themselves is very appropriate at this time."

Sadly, many people who did well during the Celtic Tiger and then saw their savings disappear or their firm become bankrupt now knew what happened if they stored up wealth for themselves.

"The message of the gospel is a very wise one and you don’t need to be a Christian to believe it."

Mr O’Sullivan believes Lent is a time for people to think of their neighbour.

"There was a time in rural parishes in Ireland when people who fell on hard times were quietly looked after and we need to get back to that way of looking after the weak and the vulnerable."

He said old-fashioned words associated with religious practice such as greed, sin and repentance were now back in vogue — almost by default.