You have always learned that Lent commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent praying in the desert before his public ministry. If, however, you actually count the days from
Pray, Give, and SacrificeCatholic Lenten Practices
Giving up something for Lent, eating fish on Fridays and fasting from meat, almsgiving and penance throughout the forty days of Lent—these are some of the practices for which Catholics are known. But why do we as Catholics do this? Because through these commitments—known as “Lenten practices” or “Lenten disciplines”—the Catholic Church calls us each year to renew our discipleship in Christ. Specifically, each year during the liturgical season of Lent the Church asks us to pray, give alms, and fast.
We know the importance of prayer in our lives—as individuals, as families, and as a community. Prayer is especially important during Lent. The Lenten season is a time for reflection, evaluation, and repentance. As the booklet Praying Lent (Loyola Press, 2009) says, Lent asks us: “What needs changing?” Lent calls us to a personal conversion and renewal—to a recommitted life in Christ so that we might not just celebrate Easter forty days later but also feel the risen Christ alive in us and in the world. This means prayer. During Lent we set aside time for prayer that is reflective in nature and reveals places where we have failed to open ourselves to God.
Every day we witness situations of injustice, violence, and hatred. Television and the Internet bring these into our living rooms, but we also observe and live them in our own cities and homes. The Church calls us during Lent to be especially conscious of the needs of others and to act accordingly. Giving materially to another is an act of Christian charity known as “almsgiving.” During Lent, the Church also calls us to first convert ourselves and then to transform the world for justice, so that we might serve the Kingdom which Jesus lived and preached.
Fasting and abstinence are not sacrifices for the sake of pain or vain discomfort. Sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice is not a Christian virtue. We are asked by the Catholic Church to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and not to eat meat on the Fridays of Lent. Feeling an empty stomach, or fighting the urge to have that juicy steak or candy bar does more than just remind us that for some people an empty stomach is their daily bread. Fasting and abstinence help us to ask ourselves the question: “What sustains me and gives me life?” What nourishes me on my journey of life? We will find the answer, not in the steak or the candy bar, but at the end of these forty days of Lent—in the Resurrection of Jesus. We fast and abstain because, when we do, we are reminded of who we are—followers of the risen Christ.
As Catholics, we joyfully engage in Lenten disciplines because we are disciples (and yes, both words have the same root). We pray, give (almsgiving), and sacrifice (fast) because we follow Christ, who loved us so much that gave his own life so that we might share in Eternal Life.
8 Ways to Pray During Lent
What do we do when we’re facing an upcoming big event, celebration, or special occasion in our lives? We prepare for it. Holy Week and Easter are “big events” in the liturgical year of the Church and in the spiritual life of a Christian. So, as Christians, we prepare spiritually for these through the forty days of Lent. This means that, during Lent, we rededicate ourselves to prayer.
There are as many ways to pray as there are pray-ers in this world, but a few prayer methods can help us in particular to spiritually prepare ourselves during Lent:
1. Make your abstinence a prayer-in-action.
As Catholics we are called to give up something for Lent. Chocolate, coffee, that extra helping of dinner, one less hour of video games or watching DVDs—whatever it is, you can make what you’re giving up for Lent a prayer as well: a prayer-in-action. Whenever you encounter the thing you are abstaining from or the time of day that you would normally enjoy it, take a moment to say a prayer in recognition of your wholeness in God even without the thing you have given up. Thank God for the freedom to be wholly yourself without this and, at the same time, acknowledge the gift of its existence in the world.
2. Renew yourself through personal reflective prayer.
Lent is a time of spiritual renewal. One easy step you can take is to use the many free online resources to jump-start or reinvigorate your prayer life. A few such resources are Loyola Press’s popular 3-Minute Retreats and Seven Last Words of Christ guided meditation, or try the prayer reflections offered by the Irish Jesuit site Sacred Space. If you’re seeking more traditional support for your personal reflective prayer, consider a book specially designed to nourish you during Lent, such as Seven Weeks for the Soul or Praying Lent.
3. Pray the Stations of the Cross.
One of the most common traditions of Lent is to pray the Stations of the Cross. This prayer helps us reflect on the passion and death of Christ in preparation for Good Friday observance and the Easter celebration. Check your local parish Web site or bulletin for listings of when a Stations of the Cross prayer service is being offered, or try one of the many online resources available, such as this one for praying the Stations with children.
4. Meditate on Holy Scripture with Lectio Divina.
Perhaps the oldest method of scriptural prayer known to Christians is lectio divina or “holy reading.” This method of prayer is characterized by the slow reading and consideration of a text from Scripture, with repetition and meditation on key words or phrases. Lectio divina is rooted in the belief that the scriptural word speaks in the human heart as the word of God and can reveal the thoughts of our hearts in response to God. In this way, lectio divina leads to a deeper communion with the Divine.
5. Reflect deeper on your liturgical prayer.
When you attend Mass during Lent, be conscious of and meditate on the words you pray in the liturgy. For example, the Eucharistic Prayer, the highlight of each Mass, has special significance during Lent. After receiving communion, you may want to sit and reflect more deeply on this great prayer of the Church.
6. Join or start a prayer group.
There are many benefits to praying with others. In group prayer you’re able to offer and experience a positive example, needed support and encouragement, different perspectives, and the inspiration to grow in the Christian life. A simple way to get started is to invite your spouse, a family member, or close friend to pray with you on a regular basis throughout Lent. You can also contact your local parish and inquire about prayer groups or prayer circles being sponsored. Or start your own communal prayer group. For example, the Meeting Christ In Prayer kit offers step-by-step instructions, guides, and all the necessary resources so even a beginner can start praying with others.
7. Pray with children or as a family.
Being a parent, guardian, or teacher is a holy ministry and a sacred promise. Share your faith with children by letting them see and hear you pray, and by praying together. Guided Reflections for Children: Praying My Faith, Praying with Scriptures, and 52 Simple Ways to Talk with Your Kids about Faith are all practical, realistic resources to help you make the most of your prayertime with children. And don’t forget about family dinners. Dinnertime is a great opportunity to start or enliven a tradition of family prayer during Lent.
8. Start a practice of daily prayer that will last after Lent.
Perhaps the best prayer advice is to use Lent as a time to instill prayer habits that will last long after Lent has concluded. Resources such as yearly prayer guides—for example, A Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions can get you started and help you stay consistent.
So enjoy your Lenten prayer. And don’t think you have to do all the above. Perhaps choose one or two of these prayer methods to concentrate on—and then you can more fully experience the pilgrim journey toward Easter that is Lent.
Click on the link below and view the Stations of the Cross Powerpoint...
pdf version of the powerpoint...
Check out more sites on Lent and why "we" do certain things in the church...
Washing Feet and Serving others during Lent
8 Ways to Pray During Lent