We often associate Lent with the season of giving up things and striving for greater holiness. What will you be giving up? What will take its place? Before the instructors of the Evangelium Institute offer some of their memorable Lenten practices for your consideration, it would be helpful to review what the Church teaches about the season of Lent.
In 1947, Pope Pius XII explains that during Lent,
“our Holy Mother the Church over and over again strives to make each of us seriously consider our misery, so that we may be urged to a practical emendation of our lives, detest our sins heartily and expiate them by prayer and penance. For constant prayer and penance done for past sins obtain for us divine help, without which every work of ours is useless and unavailing.” -Mediator Dei 157
Most of us are not used to talking about Lent or sins like this anymore. Yet, Pius XII words are true. During Lent we do penance for our sins and those of the world. What we give up for Lent and what we strive to do or grow in should have some relation to our sins. If I struggle with greed, I should focus on donating my time, talent, and treasure for the good of others. If I struggle with excessive television, I should pray a rosary and read the bible during my usual TV time. These may be trite examples, but in them we see that our Lenten plans should consider our own struggles and need for growth in holiness. Pope Pius XII went on to then say,
“In Holy Week, when the most bitter sufferings of Jesus Christ are put before us by the liturgy, the Church invites us to come to Calvary and follow in the blood-stained footsteps of the divine Redeemer, to carry the cross willingly with Him, to reproduce in our own hearts His spirit of expiation and atonement, and to die together with Him.” -Mediator Dei 158
The Second Vatican Council kept the essential spirit of this Lenten view when it said,
“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery...[It]is important to impress on the minds of the faithful not only a social consequences of sin but also that essence of the virtue of penance which leads to the detestation of sin as an offence against God; the role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be passed over, and the people must be exhorted to pray for sinners.
“During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social. The practice of penance should be fostered in ways that are possible in our own times and in different regions, and according to the circumstances of the faithful.” -Sacrosanctum Concilium 109-110
To assist you with your discernment for your Lenten practices, the Evangelium Institute instructors offer some of the penances and customs that have been fruitful in their lives and households.
Dcn. Omar Gutiérrez
When my kids do a chore or a good deed during Lent, they can put a dry bean into a mason jar. By the end of Lent, there is usually a sizable number. Then, at Easter, those beans are not just replaced with jellybeans, but the new colorful beans far outnumber the good deeds - showing God's abundant mercy.
My wife and I usually add some prayer to our routine during Lent in the hope that it will stick for after Lent... it sometimes does.
Throughout Lent (because it takes a while) we cover up our holy images and crucifixes (there are a lot of them) with violet cloth. It is a constant reminder of the season.
Dr. Keith Jiron
For Lent, in addition to giving something up, like coffee or alcohol, I try to add a good habit, like praying the rosary every day, going to daily Mass, or avoiding speaking negatively about things. As a family, we do not have a post-supper dessert of any kind, except on Sundays.
One of the best things I ever did for Lent was when I was around the age of 19 or 20. I gave up TV completely. Many times, I found at the time that the TV was always on, even if no one was watching it. This created a habit of not just filling every spare moment with watching it. Now, some 30+ years later, this same principle applies to my cell phone and apps like Facebook that tempt me to look at every spare moment. I got rid of the FB app on my phone to intentionally do something more productive, say a prayer, read a couple paragraphs or pages of a book, during my spare moments.
One year I wrote and mailed with a stamp a handwritten letter each day of Lent to a friend, family member, or former teacher, boss, etc. I made it an intentional means of telling them how much they have meant in my life, whether by being a good role model, or how their acts of kindness to me at some point had an impact on my life.
Dcn. Peter Kennedy
Read more scripture: It is my common practice to spend more time reading scripture during Lent. This ordinarily involves picking a book or two of the Bible that I am less familiar with or just going back to one I know well to revisit some old friends.
Stations of the Cross: Each year our parish offers the stations of the cross in a variety of different formats. We have indoor stations in our main church each Friday led by the deacons, outdoor stations around our parish grounds on Good Friday, and even offer dramatized versions through some adult groups and with our religious education students. Participating in any of these carries with it a plenary indulgence that can be kept or shared.
Praying the whole divine office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours): As a deacon, my bishop requires me to pray the divine office twice per day: Morning and Evening Prayer. Though I typically also do Night Prayer, it is my habit to add in what is called the Office of Readings during Lent.
(You can pray the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, too! There are free apps like Ibreviary.)
Dr. Brandon Harvey
Screens: Each year our household gives up TV/Movies except for a faith show on Sundays, social media, video games, or other games on devices. We then fill that time with more time for prayer, spiritual reading, attending Stations of the Cross, and family games.
Sunday Remembrance: Each Sunday I wash the feet of my wife and kids and retell the story of the Last Supper. We then break bread and enjoy some grape juice as we review the Real Presence of Jesus at Mass and that it should be the source and summit of life.
One year, we had a weekend retreat in our home. We removed as much technology/devices, usual routines, and our basement as we could. We spent the weekend in a limited number of rooms. We filled the weekend with family and personal prayer or spiritual readings, extra Masses, Confession, a faith themed puzzle, and other activities to strengthen our faith and our family bond.
What are some of your favorite Lenten disciplines? Share in the comments.