On Ash Wednesday this year, Archbishop Hebda visited our parish and school and presided over the school Mass. During his homily, he asked the school children to give examples of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One boy suggested that you could fast from lights, “like, with an oil lamp or something.”
Archbishop chuckled and said he had never thought of that before. But I have.
Years ago, I ran across an article by Catholic convert, blogger, and speaker Jennifer Fulwiler entitled “8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights During Lent.” Her experience captured my imagination, and I pitched it to my own family and those in faith formation at the time as “Firelight Fridays.”
The premise is simple—no electrical lights or screens of any kind after sundown on Fridays during Lent. The results were profound: we found ourselves congregating as a family around the candlelit kitchen table or living room, playing board games, listening to music, or just talking and laughing together as a family. It a couple hours, we would begin to feel snoozy; eventually we would, by common consensus, snuff the candles and go to bed early, sleep soundly, and rise refreshed on Saturday morning.
Our youngest, Lily, and I loved it from the beginning—Lily asks for Firelight Fridays by name throughout the year. Others were less enthusiastic, but no one could deny that on Fridays during Lent, we were more peaceful, joyful, and connected than we had been in months. Now we do it every year.
We’ve made a few adjustments to our practices: that first year, we went to the Lenten Soup Suppers, which meant no cooking or doing dishes; in more recent years we’ve stayed home more, and my bride loved it less. This year, however, we recognized the issue—doing dishes by candlelight is no fun, nor is waking to a messy kitchen—so we’ve worked to finish earlier and help each other clean up before sundown.
A recent Friday looked like this: Jodi arrived home from work, and supper was nearly done: roast vegetables in the over, tilapia searing in a pan, and the kids setting the table. We prayed and ate together, then began to clean up the kitchen and turn off unnecessary lights at the same time, letting the natural light from outside draw us to calm and closure. We rounded up candles and lit them gradually as we needed more light. We sat together at the table and played two rounds of Splendor and two of Dragonwood (the simple game second, as our wits and wakefulness faded).
By 8:00 or 8:30 PM, we were ready to adjourn to the living room. Bruno, our Airedale, was feeling neglected, so I lay on the rug next to him. Jodi and Lily snuggled under an afghan on the couch, and Trevor draped his too-long frame over too little loveseat. He fell asleep before 9:00 PM and spent the night where he fell. The rest of us listened to praise and worship music until one by one we dozed off.
I told Bob Swift about this tradition in our family, and he urged me to share it again. It’s not too late to add to the mix this Lent. Seek peace by candlelight—you’ll be surprised how quickly you find it!
This post appeared in the Sunday, March 27, 2022, edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.