Just as we prepare for Christmas by setting aside days for certain activities, programs, and crafts, we need to make preparations for the greatest holy day for Christians: Easter. Lent gives us 40 days of preparation and enables us to journey with the Lord through His last days as He prepared Himself for the fulfillment of His mission.
And Lent truly is a journey. It is not something that we check off days for Easter or think just about the outcome. It is something participatory, something to be experienced. Likewise, as we makes plans to celebrate Lent, let us remember that we are to experience it together, as a family. It is not something to do for the kids, but a journey to take together.
The following are a few tips for making the Lenten journey.
Learn about Lent together. Children imitate what they see. Read about what Lent is---and even if you know, refresh your memory!---and share what you’ve learned while having dinner as a family.
Have your home reflect the Catholic Church during the Lenten season. Make an effort to add purple to your house. You can use purple tablecloths or napkins, even lights. Consider toning down the noise and the visual distractions in your home, too.
Create a prayer corner. If you don’t have one, consider making one. We all have special places in the house to eat, to read, to play. And yes, we can do all those things in different parts of the house. But in setting aside special places, it makes the task itself special. A prayer corner doesn’t have to be fancy. In our house, it is the top of a bookshelf. We cleared it from books and just have a crucifix, a statue of Mary, some holy cards and a Bible. For liturgical seasons, we have cloths of special colors to put on it. They’re not fancy clothes, just a place mat bought for $1.99 at Anna’s Linens, but it matches the color of everything at Mass. And it’s important for the Mass to be something that is lived and experienced as a family, not something that we just go to once a week.
Make a Lenten calendar. Use the idea of an Advent calendar. Create a calendar with 40 days. The journey begins with Ash Wednesday and continues through to Holy Week. Use pictures of the desert to decorate it. For Monday through Saturday, have a dry spot. For Sundays, use an oasis to show that this is our break in the desert during Lent. Have the calendar go to Holy Thursday, Good Friday and then Holy Saturday. On the back of the calendar, draw or color or paste a huge picture of Easter. My kids have used pictures of themselves, a holy card, even an image of a camel, to mark their spot along the Lenten journey.
Make a Prayer Jar. Use a nice clear jar for the family to record our prayer journey through Lent. Have different colored strips in different plastic bags on hand, so the child/parent can just pull a strip and write on it. Color ideas are: purple (intercessions), pink (praise), green (thanks), yellow (petition), blue (adoration) and white (combination). Every time someone says a prayer, s/he writes it down and puts in the prayer jar. It's a nice way to get the children (and grown-ups) to be aware of the different sorts of prayer ... and how often they pray.
Make a prayer journal.Use heavy card stock and old magazines for the kids to make a cover for a prayer journal. Then just fold paper in half and staple it inside for the pages. Every night, during the Scripture reading, the kids can either cut pictures for a collage entry in their journal or draw one. Remember that the journal is one created by the family, and there are no rules for who gets to be in the book.
For our journal, which is just a three-ring binder with plain pages in it, our kids have put pictures of everyone from Jeff Corwin (the host of a nature show and famous herpetologist) to Tim Duncan, the center of the San Antonio Spurs, to the pope to the president to Brett Favre, quarterback of the Jets. They also cut out pictures of friends and family members and added those to the book. We play the book in the prayer corner, so they can just pick it up and pray for the people in it. It’s a great visual and hands-on way to pray.
Pray the Stations of the Cross as a family. You can use a children’s book, the ETWN Website (www.ewtn) or make your own. (I've included some in my Lenten activity book here.)
Read Lenten books together. You can either get them from Amazon or check out the library or a Catholic bookstore. For example, you can get: The Tale of Three Trees, Children's Stations of the Cross, The Giving Tree, and The Very First Easter.
Watch a Christian movie together. For example, you can rent “The Gospel of John” or “Jesus of Nazareth” and just watch 10 minutes at night and then discuss it as a family. My kids are partial to “The Gospel of John” because it had a narrator, who read the Gospel, as the scene unfurled on the screen. Plus, the Jesus in it is very friendly, youthful and vibrant. My kids kept commenting how they wanted to go hang out with him, and in all honesty, it made me feel that way, too.
Make pretzels. Really! There is even a prayer attached to it:
We beg you, O Lord, to bless these breads which are to remind us that Lent is a sacred season of penance and prayer. For this very reason, the early Christians started the custom of making these breads in the form of arms crossed in prayer. Thus they kept the holy purpose of Lent alive in their hearts from day to day, and increased in their souls the love of Christ, even unto death, if necessary.
Grant us, we pray, that we too, may be reminded by the daily sight of these pretzels to observe the holy season of Lent with true devotion and great spiritual fruit. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
--With ecclesiastical approbation.