During Lent, we as Catholics prepare our hearts for the great celebration of Easter. We can also prepare our classrooms and homes for the great celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery of dying and rising to new life that will be celebrated during the Easter Triduum.
Sharing the meaning of Lent with our family members and students, adorning our learning and living spaces with signs of the season, and taking part in Lenten practices helps us understand the important preparation of this liturgical season.
SYMBOLS OF LENT
ASHES The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. On this day we are signed on the forehead with ashes as a reminder that we were made from dust and “to dust we will return.” We enter the season of Lent with these ashes as a sign of sorrow for our sins and our hope of a life forever with God.
PALM BRANCHES These blessed ashes come from palm branches used in our Passion Sunday celebrations. Palm branches, another sign of Lent, are used in the celebration. Passion Sunday, also called Palm Sunday, is the last Sunday before the Easter Triduum. On this day, we recall Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem just days before he was to die.
As Jesus and his disciples were traveling to Jerusalem for Passover, the people prepared for their arrival. “The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.’” (Matthew 21:8–9)
On Passion Sunday a joyful procession celebrates Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. We may gather in the vestibule or outside of the church building for the blessing of the palm branches with holy water. Those gathered sing hosanna and wave the palms as a gesture of praise and welcome. The branches are a reminder that Lent is a time of hope and renewal. After Mass, many people take the palm braches into their homes to place near a cross or crucifix or in their prayer space.
THE COLOR PURPLE Another symbol of Lent is the color purple. It is the color of the stole the priest wears for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The violet shade of purple used during Lent is symbolic of mourning, suffering, humility, regret, and the willingness to do penance, particularly through fasting and confession of our sins. The color is associated in the Gospel with the purple robe draped around Jesus during his Passion.
Lent is a season of simple living, particularly through three practices: prayer, penance, and almsgiving. While these practices are part of an ongoing life of the Christian, they hold a special place for us during Lent. Catholics pray, practice penance, do good works, and fast.
PRAYER Prayer helps us to give more time to God during Lent. We can spend more time reading and studying Scripture, take part in Lenten reflections like the Stations of the Cross, and make an effort to engage in daily prayer and worship.
ALMSGIVING Lenten good works help us to show special concern for those in need. We follow Jesus’ example of caring and providing for those who are poor or sick. We can take part in special service projects or practice works of mercy to help others. For engaging service project suggestions for young Catholics, check out 10 Service Projects Children Will Love and a Helping the Homeless combination retreat and outreach event for junior high school students.
PENANCE Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics, aged 18 until age 59. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. Children are not expected or obliged to fast during Lent, and neither are those who are ill or have other extenuating health circumstances. However, many Catholics choose to “give up” something for Lent. This sacrificial practice helps to focus on the important work of Lent: the prayer, penance, and good works that prepare us for Easter.
All of these practices also help us prepare to renew our Baptism vows as part of our Easter celebration. Baptism provides the key to Lent. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Church developed liturgies to assist people who wanted to become Christians. The final forty days of this faith journey, the “forty-day retreat” before Baptism, became what we now call Lent. As part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) Lent is the time for catechumens to continue their preparation for Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. And it’s a time for those of us who are already baptized to reaffirm what this sacrament means in our lives today. For more information, explore the What If I’m Asked About Lent? Faith Fact resource.
LENTEN PREPARATION FOR FAMILIES
To help families prepare for the season of Lent, download a special Lenten Preparation Checklist for Families. This checklist can be distributed to families to help them to prepare and to observe the season of Lent in their homes and in their daily practices. The resource offers ideas for how to talk to children about Lent and helps families to prepare hearts and homes for a fruitful Lenten journey.
Lent lasts forty days. During Lent, the whole Church prepares for the great celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery in the Easter Triduum. Families can prepare their hearts and homes for a fruitful Lenten journey. Download a Lenten Checklist for Families to help families prepare for and to observe the season of Lent in their homes and in their daily practices.