Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving within the Catholic Church. The 40 day period starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. It is a time of intentional reflection, remorse, and spiritual growth.
Prior to Lent
Prior to Lent we like to spend time as a family discussing our Lenten observances, especially the sacrifices we plan to adhere to as individuals and as a family, and what we intend to do instead of whatever it is we are sacrificing.
The intent during Lent is to remove those things from our lives which are hindering us – anything we are attached to; that has control over us. It is about reordering and setting right order where we are not controlled by things.
For instance, this year we recognized that we have let too much screen time into our lives and it has become an outlet of escape for us. We tend to eat more dinners in front of the television, put the kids in front of their favorite shows more often, have less play time and prayer time because of screen time, and get to bed later and wake up more tired because of screen time. It was creating much chaos for us and was not ‘serving’ us in any useful way; in fact, it was a detriment to us and our family. So we have decided to only allow two 30 minute blocks for screen time during the day for the kids, eat our meals at the table or kitchen island, and to have no screen time at night before bed but to instead replace that time with family time.
Mardi Gras / “Fat Tuesday”
After having decided on the focus on our family and individual sacrifices we wait for Mardi Gras, the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday” and is the day prior to Lent when you get it all out of your system. This is a day to eat rich foods, get as much screen time as you can, do whatever it is that you know you will be abstaining from for the next 40 days.
On Fat Tuesday we make a big pancake dinner with green, gold, and purple pancakes. These colors of Mardi Gras are said to represent faith, power, and justice. Somehow, part of the tradition has been realizing we have no maple syrup and having to run out to the nearest store to pay an amazingly high price for a massive jug of syrup!
On Ash Wednesday we go to Mass as early as possible and obtain the imposition of ashes on our foreheads in the shape of the cross. As the priest imposes the ashes on us he reminds us, “remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” With those sobering words we go back home and begin our Lenten fasts.
During the 40 days of Lent we have many observances that we, as a family, have taken on. These observances include:
- Utilizing either the Jesus Tree, Candles, or some other item to symbolically mark each day during Lent. This year we have a Catholic All Year subscription so we have both a thick card stock with days remaining in Lent that the kids can put a sticker on each day and we also have a crown of thorns with 40 toothpicks (thorns) in it that the kids can pull a thorn from each day.
- Setting out the bean jar for every good deed done that then turns into jelly beans on Easter Sunday
- Changing the altar linens on our home altar (purple, red, and white linens are on hand as applicable throughout the season)
- Scheduling a Lenten retreat for us to individually get away on a Friday or Saturday to the local monastery near us for Confession, Mass, Prayer, Adoration and Reflection
- Observing the Stations of the Cross on Fridays throughout Lent
- Watching Les Miserables (we usually have at least one musical per season in our household)
- Watching Rick Steves’ European Easter
- Coloring Easter Eggs or carving Pysanky Eggs
Palm Sunday is the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday. On this day we go to Mass, obtain blessed palm fronds that we craft into crosses, and participate in the reenactment of Christ’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem (days before he was crucified). In the past we have made a wreath or other greenery for our door and we always, always, celebrate Palm Sunday with ice cream sundaes.
Holy Week through Easter Sunday
Holy Week is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter and is observed with special solemnity as a time of devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ. We spend a lot of time at the monastery or local parish during the week and more time in our home chapel.
The observances during this week include:
- Listening to a podcast or DVD of the Tre Ores (The Three Hours’ Agony)
- Tenebrae Service on Holy Wednesday (at home or at a parish)
- Maundy Thursday Mass and the washing of the feet (at home or at a parish)
- Good Friday Service and the adoration of the cross (at home or at a parish)
- Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil at the local monastery
- Easter Sunday Mass with an Easter egg hunt for the kids, unwrapping of their Easter baskets, and having a special dinner with some of our favorite Irish fare!
- Changing the altar linens on our home altar to white and putting out imagery of Christ victorious over death
Have a Holy Lent and a Blessed Easter!