Exploring Lent

by Mary Ellen Vice

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Background Information

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday when the faithful are marked on the forehead with ashes, as a reminder that we begin and end our earthly existence as dust and ashes. The forty days of Lent follow Jesus' forty days of fasting while in the desert. During his stay in the wilderness, Jesus is tempted by the devil three times: each time Jesus, though weary with hunger, rejects the devil's false promises.

The focus of our Lenten journey is almsgiving, prayer and fasting. We are encouraged to do acts of charity, to pray together as a family, to attend daily Mass as often as possible, eat no meat on Fridays and give to the poor. Individually, we are encouraged to 'give up' something in order to draw nearer to God; smoking, T.V., cookies, caffeine, junk food, alcohol, candy, etc.



Many parishes add extra masses during the season of Lent. Our parish priest encourages us to attend one extra Mass during the week, in addition to our regular Sunday attendance. (I am considering Tuesday or Thursdays at the 4:15 pm mass on my way home from work. I can stop at the house and pick up our two oldest boys to bring with me and be home by 5:00 pm.)


Put a clean recycled jar on the kitchen table. Cover it with a ShareLent label (ShareLent is a Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops sponsored Lenten Aid Program) or create your own label. Some ideas for the labels: Feed the World, or Feed the Hungry, or Our Lenten Share.

Encourage every family member to put a coin in the jar for each meal they eat, or as a family decide on an amount for each meal. Help the children count up the money at the end of Holy Week, put it in an appropriate offering envelope and submit it with your Easter Sunday collection money.

Fasting and Abstinence

Talk to your kids about fasting and abstinence, especially on Fridays, since our dear Lord was crucified on a Friday. Tell them you are going to eat no meat that day. Ask them for help in coming up with some menu ideas: macaroni and cheese, pasta with meatless tomato sauce, scrambled eggs and toast, soup and grilled cheese, rice and bean casserole. (Caution: Avoid Salmon Loaf. Ugh!)

Explain how fasting means limited eating and no snacking. This applies to those over 14, healthy and non-pregnant or nursing. Fasting means only a minimum of foods between meals, this food should be essential type food and not junk food! Children can become quite vigilant with each other, and you, once they understand what fasting is all about.


Gather together with the family for prayer once a day. If this is not a family habit, Lent is a great time to start. Perhaps at the dinner table, before everyone leaves, or just after the meal? Some suggested readings are:

  • A Journey with Jesus; Family Prayers for Lent by Gwen Costello, Twenty-Third Publication.
  • Lent Begins at Home; Family Prayers and Activities by Pat and Rosemary Ryan, Liguori Publications.
  • Building Family through Lent, Cycle C by Lisa Bellecci-Saint Romain Liguori Publications.

Faith Development

Is there a Catholic Church near you that runs a series of seminars for personal faith development during Lent ie: Life in the Spirit? Maybe you and your spouse could consider attending something like this...growing together in your faith journeys.

The Road to Easter

Think of this project as a progressive calendar with weekly activities! Do not feel you have to do all the activites, it may be overwhelming! Just select which one best suits your family. Keep the other activities in mind though. Maybe different ones will work better next year.

Copy the ROAD MAP below onto a large piece of newsprint or bristol board. You can purchase a end-roll of newsprint very cheaply from your local newspaper office every once in awhile. Copy the CAR and ROAD SIGNS below. Color and cut out the little car. Use it to 'drive' along the road to Easter. Color and cut out the 5 symbols that will help lead you through your journey. An idea to make your symbols sturdier is to laminate them or cover them with clear sticky plastic. (The brand name locally is Mac-Tac) Do the same with the large map. Then you will be able to use everything again next year!

The weekly activities for the Map follow below.

Exploring Lent picture 2
Exploring Lent picture 3

Ash Wednesday

  • Sing 'Ashes' or some similar Lenten song to begin your journey.
  • With a masking tape ring or some other arrangement, fasten the little car to the map.
  • Move it along a little each day.

First Sunday: Stop! Give Thanks!

  • Put up the first symbol on the map.
  • This week, tell each family member is thankful for at family prayer time. Be sure to include special people, food, shelter, fresh air, a free country, the gift of our faith and our parish, and God's intervention in difficult problems.
  • Attend at least one extra mass during the week
  • Light a votive candle in thanksgiving.
  • Buy a mass card for a mass of thanksgiving
  • Write a thank you note to an older or lonely person.

Second Sunday: Forgive!

  • Put up second symbol on the map.
  • This week, search your hearts for the courage to forgive someone. Talk with the family about the need to forgive others and also to forgive ourselves.
  • Remind the family that God our Father forgives us ALL the time.
  • Discuss the special gift of the sacrament of reconciliation: its purpose, its meaning, and the end result: We are closer to God.
  • Go to confession as a family; Mom and Dad set the example for the children.
  • Tell someone you are sorry and ask for forgiveness.
  • Write a note to someone you have hurt. Tell them you are sorry and ask for forgiveness (or make a phone call, but a note is better)
  • Sing 'Father, I have Sinned.' The words of the refrain are so powerful:
'I forgive you; I love you; You are mine; take my hand. Go in peace; sin no more, beloved one.'
  • Print the lyrics of the chorus on a chart. Put it up in the kitchen for the family to see and read.
  • Another short, but important prayer to include this week in your family prayers is:
'Lord, teach us to forgive, like you yourself forgave.'

Third Sunday: Abstain

  • Place the sign 'Abstain' onto the map. Remember to move the car along.
  • Discuss the meaning of the word abstinence. Traditionally, it refers to avoiding meat. It also implies avoiding snacks and alcohol. For the kids (and maybe the adults) it could also mean abstaining from T.V., video games, candy, junk food, and computer games. Try a combination or variation of these things this week.
  • What else could you abstain from? (No chuckling from parents)
  • Look for meatless recipes in cookbooks. Have the kids select a couple to try. (Warning: abstain from salmon loaf) The kids can help in preparing the meal.
  • Instead of renting a movie, put the money in your ShareLent jar. Play a board game together as a family or read aloud from a terrific book like The Hobbit, or The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald.
  • To help remind us that other people have less than we do, collect dried food goods and take them to your local food bank. have the kids do the food selection (watch those dried beans go!) and carry the bags in.
  • Sing 'Every Valley' by Bob Dufford, SJ.

Fourth Sunday: Charity

  • Put the road sign for charity on your map.
  • Acts of charity, besides being a fruit of the Holy Spirit, are a way to imitate Christ, and bring us closer to the Lord.
  • Brainstorm with the family to see what kind deeds you can do.
  • Help your teacher.
  • Call a grandparent to say 'I love you.'
  • Invite an unpopular child to join your games.
  • Shovel your neighbor's walkway or driveway (in warmer climes, cut their grass.)
  • Set the table, load the dishwasher, or sweep the floor.
  • Fold some laundry, put away some laundry.
  • Run an errand for a neighbor.
  • read a story to a younger sibling.
  • Be patient with someone who frustrates or annoys you.
  • Give one of your toys to another child via Saint Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army.
  • Sing 'All That We Have' by Gary Ault.

Fifth Sunday: Faith

  • If we trust implicitly in our God, everything will work out. Sounds so simple, yet it is so difficult to stop worrying about what might or might not happen.
  • Read the story of Lazarus. (John 11: 1-25) Do you have Mary and Martha's faith? What could you do increase your faith. Discuss the concept of complete trust in God with your family.
  • Light a candle and pray that God helps deepen your faith.
  • Go back over and read Sunday's readings together.
  • Think of a quality you have that could be developed and focus on it during this week, for example, doing my work joyfully, practicing the piano without being told, being responsible, having faith in myself.
  • Hug your Mom and your Dad.
  • Hug your kids. Tell them that you love them and have faith in them.
  • Put the letters F.A.I.T.H down the side of a sheet of paper. Fill in words that start with these letters and tell what faith means: for example, F is for Father. Decorate this sheet when you're finished and put it up where the family can see it.

Passion Sunday and Holy Week: Pray

  • We enter the holiest week of the church year. With a focus on prayer, we can properly prepare our hearts for the Tridium and Easter Sunday.
  • On Passion Sunday night, place your palms on the supper table as a reminder for the coming week of Jesus' constant presence in our lives.
  • During the easter Tridium, cut our T.V., radio, non-religious music, video games, and computer games.
  • Teach your children to say the Rosary (if they don't already know) Say a decade each night this week during family prayer time.
  • Light a candle and have the children take turns creating simple prayers, either at the supper table, family prayer time, or at bedtime.remind them that God loves to hear form His loved ones on a regular basis. He also hears all prayers, no matter how small or humble.
  • Bless each child on the forehead with the sign of the cross as the go to sleep. I usually say 'May God bless you and keep you.' Our children make the sign of the cross on my forehead now!
  • Take your children to church to say the Stations of the Cross this week. Before you go, discuss that they are a special form of devotion.
  • Attend confession this week as a family. Encourage each family member to do an examination of conscience beforehand.

Easter Sunday: Rejoice!

  • The long journey is over and we have reached the end of our road. The joy of Easter is more than the ending of our forty days of Lent, it is the joy of the end of waiting of all history.
  • Make name cards for dinner guest and family members for the Easter feast. Draw a lamb, a cross or the risen Lord (if you are really artistic!) Try using twin-tipped markers, or glitter glue. Older children will enjoy experimenting with calligraphy for the names. (A source of Decorative Letters can be found in our Epiphany Fridge Art column.)

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