Lent is a season rich in symbols and meaning. Here are some suggested ways to help you and your family grow spiritually during Lent. Choose the ones you think your family would enjoy the most.
Ash Wednesday: Attend Ash Wednesday services at your parish, and talk about the meaning of the ashes.
Family Fasts: Together as a family, decide on one or two things to fast from during Lent. Perhaps your family could give up eating at fast food restaurants or watching television on a designated evening of the week. Encourage one another along the way.
Lenten Candles: If your family enjoys Advent wreaths, set up seven candles in the shape of a cross to mark the weeks of Lent. Use purple candles for each week of Lent, but put a white one in the center or at the top for Easter Sunday.
Soup Suppers: Prepare a simple soup one night a week and deposit the money that you would have spent on dinner in the poor box at your church, or donate it to a charity. You may want to join other families in this practice or check out local parishes to see if they offer Lenten soup suppers.
A Saturday of Service: Select a Saturday in Lent and keep it free of other commitments. Spend the day with your family working on a service project. You might collect cans of food for the local food bank, serve at a soup kitchen, or visit a nursing home.
Pretzel Making: In the days of the very strict Lenten fasts, pretzels made from bread, water, and yeast were a staple food. They were shaped in the form of a person’s arms crossed in prayer. Make homemade pretzels. Your kids will love rolling out the dough into pretzels—and eating them.
Stations of the Cross: For younger children, draw your own stations on construction paper. Place them around the house. One evening after dinner, visit each station with your children. Try to attend the Stations of the Cross at your parish several times during Lent.
Make a Pilgrimage: Is there a nearby shrine, monastery, or cathedral that you could visit? As part of your trip, explore the local history and pray together as a family. Stop for lunch afterward.
Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary: This is one of the most significant ways of reflecting on Jesus’ suffering and death. To enhance the meaning of those events, find a scriptural rosary booklet in your local Catholic bookstore and read the verses relating to that mystery before each Hail Mary.
Be a “Secret Simon” of Cyrene: Put the names of all the members of your family into a bag. Each week during Lent, have everyone draw a name and keep it a secret. Every day that week, try to do something kind for that person, without letting him or her know who did it. One day you might write a note of encouragement before a test, or another day secretly perform a household chore. Try to keep one another’s secrets for the week, even if you catch on. Then, at the end of the week, you can each try to guess who your “secret Simon” was.
Crosses for Christ: On Ash Wednesday, make a big cross out of poster board and hang it in your kitchen or family room. Then cut out several dozen smaller crosses from construction paper and keep them nearby. Whenever a family member does something special for Jesus, he or she can tape a small cross to the big one. See how many little crosses your family joins with Jesus’ cross during Lent!
Puppet Show: Choose a favorite gospel story from this book and put on a puppet show. Make simple puppets out of paper lunch bags or draw pictures and staple them to ice pop sticks. Have the children hide behind your sofa and act out the story with their puppets.
Activities for Holy Week
Make the Easter Triduum—Holy Thursday through Saturday—a special family time. These are holy days in the original sense of the word—days set apart to pray and fast in anticipation of the glory of Easter morning. Plan to go as a family, if possible, to the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services at your parish.
Christian Seder Meal: Join together with another family to celebrate a traditional seder meal. Such a meal usually includes roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. Suggestions for menus and prayers can be found online.
Experience the Passion as a Family: On Good Friday, read the gospel account of Jesus’ passion as a family. Assign parts to members of the family who are old enough to participate. Or, rent and watch a movie depicting the life and death of Jesus.
Holy Saturday Food Preparations: It’s the day to prepare traditional Easter foods, such as hot cross buns, Easter lamb cake, or an ethnic specialty, such as the English simnel cake. Mold butter into the shape of a lamb for breakfast Easter morning. If you’re at a loss for recipes, search online. And don’t forget to color the eggs and fill the Easter baskets.
Easter Vigil Mass: If children are old enough, attend the Easter Vigil, which celebrates both the resurrection of our Lord and the initiation of members into the Church. If your children are too young, wake them early on Easter morning and watch the sunrise together outdoors as you sip hot chocolate and eat hot cross buns. Discuss the significance of the “Son-rise”—the rising of the Son of God!
Angela Burrin is a bestselling author of many children’s books, among them Jesus Speaks to Me about My Baptism and Jesus Speaks to Me on My First Holy Communion.