Ash Wednesday is this week, marking the beginning of Lent, the penitential season that prepares us for the joy of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter. Too often we treat Lent like a do-over for our New Year’s resolutions or a chance to jumpstart our diet before swimsuit season. But Lent isn’t meant to be about loss–we fast to gain, to grow spiritually.
To that end, this week let’s look at few links on what Lent’s really about, and how to live it as a family.
- What’s the Deal With Lent, Anyway? If you are looking for an overview of what Lent is and why we, as Catholics, do the things we do, several good websites and pages exist to answer those questions. Catholic Answers offers this straightforward explanation for why we fast and abstain from meat during Lent, while Catholic Online offers a more thorough Frequently Asked Questions page on Lenten practices. Or if you’d really like to explore the season with your family, click through and read Catholic Culture’s online Lenten Workshop, with lessons, activities, and more!
- What Am I Gonna Give Up This Year? Two important things to remember when you and your family start talking about what to give up: 1) You are supposed to give up something good, something you enjoy or are attached to, rather than a vice (which you should give up all the time) or green vegetables (which for many of us are good, but not really a sacrifice), and 2) it’s not all about giving up things, but also about cultivating new spiritual habits. Remember that Lent is about fasting, prayer and almsgiving — so consider doing something new in your prayer life or undertaking a corporal act of mercy. For suggestions on Lenten commitments for adults and young people, check out the National Catholic Register’s These 40 Days: Guide for Lent.
- What About Lenten Traditions? One of the ways families can enter more fully into Lent and give the Easter season some of same excitement and momentum that Christmas has is to start a few fun family traditions. Take, for example, pretzel making — both the Catholic Education Resource Center and Catholic Culture cite pretzels as a traditional Lenten food, rich in history and symbolism. The blog Catholic Icing offers 40 Simple Lenten Traditions For Families (With Little To No Prep Work) — as well as a simple recipe for making pretzels at home.
One last thing: every year, people ask about “taking Sundays off” from your Lenten sacrifices. Some people insist that since Sundays are a feast day and not counted in the “40 days of Lent,” your sacrifices don’t apply to Sundays. Others say that a person out to be able to make it through the entire Lenten season, Sundays and all, without “stumbling” or “giving in.”
It is true that Sundays aren’t meant for fasting and aren’t counted among the 40 days of Lent. It may also be true that if you absolutely cannot abstain from whatever-it-is for the full Lenten season, you could be overly attached to it. My advice to my own family: decide now which you are going to observe and stick to it. If you think it would be a good disciple for you to go beerless or chocolate-free on Sundays, too, I don’t have a problem with that. Just remember that Sunday is a feast day and find ways to treat it as such. But whatever you do, don’t decide that a different day is going to be your “day off”– it’s not a day off; it’s the Lord’s Day, which makes it special — and don’t decide two weeks into Lent that maybe you could have a little just…this…once. That’s a slippery slope that quickly slides from Sundays into other days, too!