Learn how to grow in your Catholic faith during the Lenten season. Get ideas for celebrating Lent as a Catholic through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Does your Sunday bulletin now have notices about your church’s fish fry popping up, along with announcements for penance services?
Are your kids debating whether they should give up candy, fighting with each other, or broccoli?
If so, the liturgical season of Lent must be upon us.
As Catholics, what is required of us during Lent and how can we grow closer to God during this church season?
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Lent is a time for simplicity and reflection. A time to focus on God and His sacrifice for us. How can we use this time to grow in our faith? What is required of us as Catholics during the liturgical season of Lent?
What is Lent?
Lent is the liturgical season of the church that comes before Easter. It is 40 days long, to represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of prayer and sacrifice to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter.
How to Celebrate Lent as a Liturgical Season
You may or may not already celebrate the church seasons in your home. If you aren’t, Lent is a great time to begin. I have found that, in our home, we’ve grown stronger in our Catholic faith once we started living liturgically at home.
However, I do want to mention that you do not need to do all of the ideas listed here to celebrate Lent, nor should you! I definitely don’t do everything I’ve listed here every year. I’m sharing these ideas more as a starting point. What your family enjoys and has time to do may be different than my family. So I wanted to give you a few choices of Lenten practices you could follow.
What Lenten Traditions Do Catholics Follow?
Lent has three main pillars that we, as Catholics, should follow: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. How we follow these will look different for each family. The idea is to grow in your faith, so don’t worry if your Lenten practices differ from those of other Catholics.
Lent is the perfect time to add more prayer to your day. I’ve seen it suggested that you could get up earlier each morning for prayer time. That sounds like a lovely way to start the day, but that’s just not going to happen in my house. I already don’t get much sleep at night, so waking up earlier is not an option.
However, you don’t have to wake up early to add more prayer time. Prayers can be added throughout the day. Or perhaps you turn off the T.V. 20 minutes earlier than normal and use that time as prayer time instead. The point isn’t to say the prayers at a certain time, but just to focus on trying to pray more often. I like to use the little booklets offered at my church each year as a guide for my prayers.
Each morning to begin our homeschool morning basket, my boys and I say a Morning Offering and a decade of the Rosary. During Lent, I’m going to try to increase to a full Rosary on Fridays. That feels doable to me. So think of something small you could do to add more prayer time. The easier something is to add to our day, the more likely we’ll stick with it.
The Church requires fasting on two days of the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. For those days, healthy adults between the ages of 18-59 are to eat 2 small meals that do not equal a full meal, plus one regular meal with no snacking. Those days are also included in days of abstinence, or not eating meat for people who are 14 and older, along with the other Fridays of Lent.
Along with the required fasting, many Catholics also choose to give something up for Lent. It can be food, such as chocolate or wine, but probably not broccoli like your child wants to give up. Alternatively, you could give up something non-food, like Facebook or sleeping on a pillow. The idea here is to make a sacrifice, to recognize the extreme sacrifice Jesus made for us.
I personally do not like to give up food for Lent. Instead, I try to think of something that is preventing me from having a deeper relationship with Christ. Many times that is something that I have been confessing repeatedly. Speaking of confession, Lent is the perfect time to attend the sacrament of Reconciliation. Many churches extend their confession times or offer penance services during Lent for this reason.
The final pillar of Lent is almsgiving. Almsgiving may mean donating money to the poor, but it can also mean donating your time. During Lent, you may decide to donate more money than usual to the church, or to a local charity. Perhaps you may decide to volunteer your time at a local place in need.
Ways to Prepare Your Home for Lent
Preparing your home for Lent is a good reminder of the penitential season. Save those Easter bunnies and other fun spring and Easter decorations for Easter Sunday, or at least Holy Saturday. During Lent, simplicity and reverence is important.
In my house, we mainly keep our prayer table decorated liturgically throughout the year. So in Lent, that means I place a purple table runner across it. On top of that I have a wooden wreath to resemble a crown of thorns, and I place a tabletop crucifix in that. I also have a framed picture from Etsy of a cross of ashes that I place next to those. I find the simplicity is what makes the decor a powerful reminder of what this season represents.
Then on Holy Saturday, in preparation for Easter, I will remove the Lenten decor and place a white table runner, flowers and candles in their place.
How to Teach Your Children About Lent as a Catholic
It’s important that we don’t just prepare ourselves for Easter, but also teach our children about Jesus’ sacrifice and the season of Lent. As a parent, I’ve found it tougher to talk about Lent than Advent with my children. Children understand babies, and many remember waiting for a new sibling to arrive.
On the contrary, Lent is a reminder of our sins and Jesus’ sacrifice to open the gates of Heaven for us. It’s hard for children to understand why people wanted Jesus to die, and why it was necessary. And it can be hard for us as parents to explain this to our children at their level.
Throughout the years, I’ve shared a variety of activities with my kids to help them realize the importance of the Lenten season, along with its pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Activities You Can Do During Lent with Your Children to Help Them Grow in Their Faith
- Visual reminders to encourage good deeds
- Extra prayer time
- Take to confession, if of age
- Attend Stations of the Cross
Make a Visual Reminder for Sacrifice and Good Deeds
When my older children were quite young, I used visuals to help them understand sacrifice. One year we made a crown of thorns. I found a recipe online for salt dough, which we rolled out into 2 log shapes that we twisted together into a circle. Before it dried, we stuck toothpicks into it to represent thorns. We left ours white, but you could certainly paint it brown once dry to look more like branches.
We left the crown in an area we frequently were around, one year on the kitchen table and another year on our prayer table. Then anytime I caught the kids being extra good, helping someone else, or otherwise making a sacrifice, I’d have them pull out a thorn. The idea I tried to teach through this was that the thorns (our sins) hurt Jesus, but good deeds and sacrifices remove those thorns.
Another visual you could do is to fill a small bowl with dry beans, such as pinto beans. Set a jar beside it, empty at first. Then as you see your children being good, helping others, etc., they can move the beans from the bowl to the jar. Some families take this one step further and replace the beans with jelly beans on Easter Sunday for their good deeds and sacrifices.
Family Prayer Time
Another activity you can do with your children during Lent is to add family prayer time in your home. You could try a daily prayer time, or maybe just Sunday evening if your family is busy. We will be adding in more Rosaries for our prayer time this Lent.
If your children have received their first sacrament of Reconciliation already, then a perfect Lenten activity is to take them to Confession. Many churches extend their confession times during Lent, and many also have penance services as well. If we haven’t gone at any other time during Lent, I like to take my kids during Holy Week.
Attend Stations of the Cross
Another activity that many churches offer during Lent is weekly Stations of the Cross. Our parish church offers them on Friday evenings. Stations of the Cross is a good activity for kids as it’s usually pretty short. There’s also quite a bit of movement with the kneeling and standing, which is good for wiggleworms! I try to take my kids to at least one Stations of the Cross during Lent. If you can’t attend at your church, Holy Heroes has a nice Stations of the Cross CD that you could follow along with at home.
How to Celebrate Important Days in Lent, including Saints’ Feast Days
Recognizing important days during Lent is another way to grow in your Catholic faith during this liturgical season. You can do more elaborate celebrations if that’s what your family enjoys, or just keep it simple.
We don’t go too big on our celebrations of saints’ feast days at our house. Usually I try to at least mention some highlights of the saint’s life to my kids. I also enjoy reading picture books about the saint, if we happen to have one. Another fun way to celebrate is by having dinner relate to the saint in some way: through color, regional dish, or maybe a special dessert.
The liturgical season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Because the date of Easter changes each year, so too does the date on which Ash Wednesday falls.
Although its Masses are some of the most attended, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. However, I find it a nice way to get in the frame of mind for penance, so we do try to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday if we are able. During the Ash Wednesday Mass, the congregation receives ashes, which are burned palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, in the form of a cross on their foreheads. Everyone is welcome to receive ashes, including babies and non-Catholics.
Whether you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday or not, it is still a day of prayer and fasting. Catholics over the age of 14 are required to abstain from meat, while Catholics between the ages of 18-59 are also required to fast. Fasting usually means 2 small meals and one regular meal with no snacking during the day. Obviously there are exceptions to fasting for those who are ill, pregnant, elderly, etc.
St. Patrick–March 17
St. Patrick was a bishop of Ireland who lived in the fifth century. He was captured and brought there as a slave, escaped, and then felt God calling him back to help the people of Ireland. He taught them about the Trinity, and is now patron saint of Ireland.
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, you could certainly wear green. I have a couple of books I read to my kids about St. Patrick. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola is an excellent book to teach your children about this saint.
Another good book describing the day, though in a more secular way, is St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons. My kids have also really enjoyed the video Patrick: Brave Shepherd of the Emerald Isle. For dinner, it could be fun to make Irish foods, or just foods that are green.
St. Joseph–March 19
Joseph was the husband of the Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus. He was a carpenter and is now the patron saint of fathers and workers. He is also the patron saint of Italy and of a happy death. As a role model for fathers, his feast day is a wonderful day to pray for the intentions of your husband during your Rosary. A statue of Joseph would make a lovely addition to your prayer table in March.
A more elaborate way to celebrate his solemnity is with a St. Joseph altar, or a table of several levels which hold foods such as breads and desserts. Now, if that is a bit much for your family (it is for ours), then perhaps an Italian meal for dinner is more your style. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take any excuse to have some pasta!
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and continues through the week to Holy Saturday. The church is a busy place this week! Celebrating and attending church activities and Masses as much as possible during Holy Week is a wonderful way to continue to grow in your Catholic faith during Lent. Your home, as your domestic church, is also a good place for Holy Week activities when you are unable to make it to church.
We have done different activities throughout the years for Holy Week. Some years, especially those when my kids were young or I just had a baby, we stayed mostly at home. Then as my kids have grown, we’ve been able to attend more activities.
Holy Thursday brings the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. My kids have enjoyed watching parishioners get their feet washed at that Mass. On Good Fridays when my kids were little, I enjoyed preparing this Good Friday lunch to explain the Passion to my kids. The Good Friday service is very reverent and includes veneration of the cross. We try to keep Holy Saturday pretty calm. We usually just spend the day cleaning and preparing decorations for Easter.
The liturgical season of Lent is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. By keeping your home decor simple and teaching your children about the meaning of Lent through activities like Stations of the Cross, you and your children will grow in your Catholic faith and be well prepared to celebrate the season of Easter that follows. Even if your child does still try to give up broccoli for Lent each year.