Tips for observing Lent as a family

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

At school and in children’s liturgy on Sundays our children are encouraged to do some Lenten observances to prepare them to celebrate Easter. Usually our children each choose something to give up. They each choose different things, and their friends often choose different things as well.

We always have to revisit the conversation about what the Church asks us to do: prayer, almsgiving, abstinence and fasting, and why giving up eating vegetables they dislike is not an option.

I thought that this year we’d try to make more effort to do our Lenten observances together as a family.

And I’m going to suggest they choose something with their friends, so they can support each other.

Some families encourage their children to make a short visit to a church or chapel before or after school, try to get to an extra Mass or pray a family Rosary or Angelus each week. There’s always the option of giving up sweets, which can be hard for children (and parents sometimes) but there’s always Sunday to look forward to (no fasting on Sundays!).

As the days begin to get a bit shorter and cooler over Lent, this season naturally lends itself to catching up on some spiritual reading. Audio books are great to play on commutes.

Pope Francis recommended reading or re-reading Dante’s Divine Comedy to prepare for this Year of Mercy and if we haven’t read it yet Lent is a good time to start; for children perhaps we could pull them on to our laps after bath time for the stories of Our Lady of Fatima and Lourdes.

Teenagers might like to go online and listen to podcasts and homilies by US university chaplain Fr Mike Schmitz on bulldogcatholic.org or read Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza.

There are some great ideas, challenges, or prompts online for this Lent. A new one this year is a photo-a-day project, called Holy Lens, which is being run on Facebook and Twitter by a Catholic writer and mother, Abbey Dupuy.

The idea is to take a photo each day that reveals God’s presence in everyday life, as a spiritual discipline. Each day, if you follow the project, there will be a new prompt relating to one of the Mass readings of the day, to guide your photo-taking. You can share your photos on and see others’ as well. Children old enough to use a camera can do this, too, and they don’t have to do the social media component if you don’t want them to. Just give them the prompt for the day and let them go for it. For the details, see her blog at survivingourblessings.com.

Other ideas are the decluttering project known as 40 bags for 40 days, where you go through your home during Lent and find a bag of things each day that can be either thrown away or given to someone else who will use them.

This lends itself to the almsgiving and fasting aspects of Lent and is intended to be a spiritual exercise in reflecting on how few material things are really important, and an exercise in gratitude for God’s providence.

Ultimately, our Lenten observances should help us to grow as individuals but also as the community of God, to better reveal to the world and to ourselves, what we are, that is, the Body of Christ.

Related: The Lent app with a call to mercy