Lent – These 40 days before Easter are a wonderful time to rethink everything and to allow ourselves to take up our crosses as Christ once did. Watch this lent video showing 40 days of Jesus in the desert.
1. Decide on your Lenten sacrifice
Lent is a season of solemnity and sacrifice commemorating Jesus’ exodus into the desert; our sacrifice is a reminder of the sacrifice of self Jesus made to save us from our sins. Because of this, it is a Lenten tradition to sacrifice something for these 40 days. Think about all the trivial things in your life that shift your focus away from God. Do you find that you dedicate more time to sending text messages and posting status updates than to prayer and time with God? Do you have a habit of eating junk food excessively? What is something your life could do without? Prepare for Lent.
2. Include something special in your Lenten routine
Giving up chocolate or Facebook for 40 days is great, but why not do something positive, too, instead of just removing the negative? Resolve to spend more time volunteering, with your family, pray more, or somehow get in touch with your faith. Some families decide to set aside their spare change during these 40 days and do something with that money. Either donate it to the church or to a local charity, or spend it on goods for those in need. It’s a nice touch to this season, focusing on those that don’t have anything to sacrifice in the first place. Think about what Lent means to me.
3. Attend Mass as often as possible
In addition to weekly Sunday service, it’s good to go to church frequently, especially during Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday when we remember that we come from dust and to dust we shall return. Many traditions often have an additional worship service in mid-week, and attendance at these services is a good way to participate in Lent.
4. Go to Reconciliation
Reconciliation, or Confession, is a wonderful way to turn away from sin and reunite yourself with Christ. If you don’t already, try getting into the habit of going to Confession on a regular basis. The Catholic Church has made it obligatory that all the faithful receive the sacrament of Penance at least once a year and once during the season of Lent, though it’s recommended that you attend Confession at least once a month if possible. Your church probably offers weekly confessional services, if not more during this time of year. If you’re not sure when to go, pick up a local bulletin or just make a quick phone call! You can schedule private confessions as well. Understand that Lent is the path to freedom.
5. Spend time on devotions
Though not required, devotions are a great way to put yourself in the right mindset for Lent. The Church highly encourages Adoration of God or the veneration of the Blessed Virgin and the saints. Your local parish probably has regular Eucharistic Adoration, where you can go to sit and engage in deep prayer, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. To practice veneration, you could say a decade of the Rosary daily, or pray to your patron saint. Any prayer, so long as it means something to you, is a step in the direction God intended. If you have a prayer you’ve grown up with that speaks to you, resolve to spend more time focusing on what it truly means and how you can embody that prayer in your everyday life.
6. Take time for self-examination and reflection
Christmas and Easter are times of happiness and joy; while the preceding and succeeding seasons are cheery and bright, the same cannot be said about Lent. It is a time of simplicity and solemnity. It is a time to reflect on your dependence on God’s mercy and your understanding of faith. Take moments during this time to think about how you embody Christ’s message. To top it all off, Lent, in most climes, is during winter — when just a look out the window is a somber reminder of the tribulations Jesus went through for our happiness.
7. Fast and abstain
All Catholics aged fourteen and older are asked to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays, though fish is allowed to be eaten. Additionally, Catholics aged 18-59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Lenten Fridays, meaning that only one full meal may be eaten in the day. Of course, do this however you feel is safe and effective. Some people should definitely not fast (the pregnant or the elderly, for example). If fasting isn’t a reasonable option for you, fast from something other than food. Make sure it’s something that’s a challenge — like your phone or email — so you can feel the sacrifice you’re making. Read about what to give up for lent.
8. Take something on
While many people choose to give harmful things up for Lent, you could use the season to help you build good habits. You could promise to be more patient and kind toward your neighbor, or you could vow to help the needy. Whether you choose to sacrifice or to adopt new, strengthening habits, you should allow your Lenten promises to help you grow in faith and virtue. In addition to bettering your own life, take this time to build habits that better the lives of others. Volunteer at a hospital or shelter, or simply get more active in your church by offering to greet, read, or take care of the offerings.
9. Have a Seder meal
Though some see it as largely a Jewish tradition, that is not the case! On Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, many Catholics have a seder meal, commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus — the very last day of Lent. You eat the “meal” in silence, reflecting on your Lenten experiences with unleavened bread and wine (or grape juice). How has this Lent changed you? If you’d like to get a little historical with it, try including matzah (unleavened bread), maror (horseradish root), egg, or haroset (apple, spice, and red wine mixture) as part of your meal.
10. Promote a communal alms-giving project
Many communities choose to partake in something like Operation Rice Bowl during this season, offering help to those communities that are in need. It’s possible your Church already has something like this going on — but if not, start the ball rolling yourself! This is the perfect time to focus on bettering the world, just as Jesus did. Any charity in the area can be the basis of your project. All you need to do is get your parish on board. Talk to your priest and see if he can help urge the masses to get behind a good cause.
11. Add purple adornments to your living space
The color of Lent is purple – a quick stroll by any church will make that abundantly clear. Add a few touches of deep, royal purple into your home to remind you that these 40 days are quite meaningful. But do keep it simple — Lent is hardly a time for overabundance. A few purple candles, a purple table runner — nothing too gaudy, eye-catching, or unnecessary. It’s a time of reserve and preparation for growth. Save the excess for Easter!
12. Make a Lenten calendar
Such a calendar will help you to focus on the progression of the Lenten season and is a neat reminder to see the days ticking away, getting closer and closer to Jesus’ resurrection. Lent is 40 days long and doesn’t include Sundays. It ends the Friday before Easter (the last day being Holy Thursday); count backwards from there. Hang the calendar in a common area in your home. Every day, tick off a box. As you get closer and closer to Easter, how do you find yourself feeling? Are your sacrifices becoming more or less difficult to maintain? Read more on Family Lent Calendar.
13. Have a weekly sacrifice meal
In addition to fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, have a “sacrifice meal” once each week. A simple bowl of rice and glass of milk instead of your family’s traditional spread. Limiting yourself to this will remind you of what’s normal for you — highlighting that it isn’t normal for others. The things we so easily forget! Again, only partake in diet restrictions if it’s advisable for you. If you’re not sure, it’s wise to consult a doctor beforehand. Jesus doesn’t want you sacrificing your health!
14. Burn palms from last year’s Palm Sunday
At the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday, burn the palms you have from last year’s Palm Sunday. Keep them in a bowl at your dining room table (or wherever they could serve as a reminder) to reflect on Jesus’ life and death. As you eat each meal, you’ll feel a natural urge of gratitude for the splendor that you have.