Ash Wednesday is one week away! It's almost time to begin.
Are you prepared for Lent?
Those of us who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass following the traditional 1962 Church calendar have the benefit of a pre-Lenten season called Septuagesima. As Pius Parsch puts it in The Church's Year of Grace, "To effect a transition from the joyous spirit of Christmas time to the sober and serious character of Lent, the Church has inserted a period of mental conditioning before Ash Wednesday." For a week and a half now we have been seeing the color violet at Mass, sobering us with the visual call to repentance and the urgency of the nearness of Lent. The Gloria and the Alleluia are omitted from the Mass, but we still have flowers and organ music and we know it is not quite Lent yet. We still have time to prepare and to formulate our plan for this season of penance. We have time to pray about and ponder the sacrifices we will choose to make and the spiritual practices we will take on. Lent is a time of interior purification and spiritual renewal. We would do well to heed the 'mental conditioning' and prepare intentionally for it.
Just as our church looks different with violet vestments, and the Mass is different with joyous exclamations omitted, so our homes, our domestic churches, should look and feel and perhaps even sound different during the season of Lent. While individuals may independently choose to give up things for Lent, I think it is also good if the family takes on various collective sacrifices. Abstaining from sweets and treats (which are festal by nature) is a natural; abstaining from meat on days other than Fridays, avoiding eating between meals, giving up sugar or alcohol or caffeine, avoiding restaurants and coffee shops, or eating simple meals are some ways of fasting that can be undertaken as a family. Other family penances could be abstaining from listening to music, movies, television, video games, internet, social media, and outside entertainments. Efforts can be made to set aside a time each day for silence, fostering a more prayerful atmosphere. We are not monks given to hours of silence at a time, yet a bustling family can observe a bit of silence every day, perhaps at 3 o'clock in commemoration of Our Lord's Passion. Even little children can understand and appreciate quiet, delighting in whispering when speech is necessary. Another joint sacrifice could be giving up fiction and other non-spiritual reading, focusing on writings of the saints or other spiritual works to inspire and edify us on our Lenten journey. And these 'easy' (straightforward) external things can strengthen us to do even greater things, like collectively giving up complaining.
Of course there are the additional private sacrifices, the practices that can remain hidden from even those closest to us. But having some penances as a family not only builds solidarity as we encourage one another, making an offering to God as a family unit is a beautiful thing. And together we can do big things that might be too difficult for us to accomplish alone.
Sometimes it seems like modern folks eschew the 'giving something up' for Lent, regarding it as juvenile or old-fashioned. In reality we are imitating Christ Himself who for forty days set Himself apart from others to fast and pray. If Our Lord saw it fit to fast, how much more so do we need this practice! As the Preface for Lent puts it, "Who by this bodily fast dost curb our vices, lift our minds, and bestow strength and rewards." Fasting and sacrifice strengthens our resolve and increases our ability to resist sin, as well as making reparation for our sins and those of the world. We unite our tiny little sufferings to Him and enter more fully into the mystery of His Passion. The giving up of some of our fleshy and worldly comforts naturally helps turn our minds and hearts more to spiritual things; detachment from the worldly facilitates deeper attachment to the spiritual. We also need to consider things we can do to aid our spiritual growth and renewal during this season, but the two go hand in hand and fortify each other - the 'giving up' enables the 'taking on' and vice versa.
As we prepare for Lent we can think and prayerfully discern what area we want to focus on in our personal lives. Choosing one vice to obliterate or one virtue to particularly pursue can keep our efforts concentrated and hopefully thus more efficacious. Think of all the progress we could make over the years if we just accomplished that much!
Lent beckons us to spend more time in prayer. If you don't already do so, Lent is the perfect time to edify your family's prayer life with devotions such as a daily family rosary, daily Mass (or an extra day or two if daily isn't possible), praying the Divine Office or perhaps the Little Office, or the Divine Mercy chaplet during the 3 o'clock hour. More time can be devoted to reading Scripture and perhaps memorizing verses. For those of us who homeschool, our weekly memory work or copywork/handwriting/dictation can be devoted to Scripture for this season. Taking a short time for quiet every day is also a possibility. Stations of the Cross can be attended as a family on Fridays or prayed privately on other days as well. Lent is always a good time to listen to extra sermons.
And then there is Confession. Lent is a natural time to increase the frequency with which we receive this Sacrament. Confession not only relieves us of the burden of sin but also gives us grace, strengthening us to grow in holiness and avoid sin in the future. Pope Francis recently spoke on the Sacrament of Confession in his general audience, exhorting us:
Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! (read the rest at the link)
Doesn't everyone want to feel 'free, grand, beautiful and happy' as often as possible?! As I like to tell my kids, if you wait until you have to go, you've waited too long. It's kind of like mopping the kitchen floor - would you rather do it once a week, or wait until it's been several months (or longer)? Things are so much cleaner and easier to maintain with frequent attention. Lent is the perfect opportunity to partake of regular Confessions, as most churches have increasing times offering the sacrament. Take advantage of more grace this Lenten season. Go early and go often! You'll be glad you did.
For reading this year I chose Anima Christi by Mother Mary Francis, as we enjoyed her writing so much during Advent. This ancient prayer, Anima Christi, contemplating the mysteries of the Eucharist and the Passion, seems like a perfect topic for Lent. As Alice von Hildebrand notes on the cover, "How illuminating are her meditations on the meaning of suffering and an expression of love; how convincingly she shows that it opens one's heart to others by choking our selfishness."
I also have Meditations for Lent which is a collection of daily reflections from a seventeenth century bishop, recommended to me by Jessica. (Don't miss her beautiful post today, Veiling: A Lenten Sacrifice I Grew to Love.)
We also look forward to listening to Lent at Ephesus, the new recording from the Benedictines of Mary (also available on Amazon). Music is a simple, beautiful and pervasive way to influence the atmosphere of one's home.
Also in the Lenten lineup are the 'regulars':
Michael reads the Knox Bible I gave him for Christmas while others use the Douay-Rheims Mary Rose received for Confirmation. My Divine Intimacy remains a perennial favorite, and I also like to periodically re-read My Daily Bread. St. Alphonsus Liguori's How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God is a little gem I lately keep in my purse as the short chapters make for a perfect quick read when able.
As is tradition, here is this year's Lenten calendar generously provided by Lydia! This is great to print out for the children - they can color one space a day to visually keep track of how far we are on our journey through Lent.
Blessings to you and yours as you prepare for a holy and fruitful Lent!