Lent was always a dreaded liturgical season for me as a child. I learned from a young age to “give up” something arbitrary, like soda or candy, and I loathed every minute of it. It wasn’t so much that the act itself was difficult (though it sometimes could be), but more because I wondered if there had to be more than merely “giving up” something for six weeks once a year. Lent as a lifestyle was never really a concept I grasped until later in life, but now I realize the value of making permanent changes that can begin during Lent.
Naturally, we sacrifice and perform works of mercy more frequently during Lent, but this is a season that should awaken within our hearts the importance of pruning and purgation. Our interior lives often suffer throughout the year as we gravitate toward our busy lives, but Lent grounds and centers us so that we remember the gravity of Jesus’s sacrifice.
Because some of us grapple with what to do as a family for Lent, I’ve come up with some of my favorite family activities – some old, tried-and-true and some brand new. Our family has tried a combination of these activities, though we don’t do them all each Lent. Some years we alternate between certain activities, and this year we are incorporating a new tradition – The Mass Box. Regardless of which you may choose, all are appropriate for preschool-aged children through the early adolescence and are certain to enrich your Lenten experience this year.
Lenten Activity Calendar: 40 Martyrs of Sebaste
Cassandra Poppe created this ingenious Lenten activity that follows a similar concept to the Advent calendar. Families purchase her template (which is downloadable), along with a large poster board, and the child(ren) decorate their poster boards with a body of water and land. The forty martyrs are represented by paper figures and symbolize the sacrifices a child makes each day. The child makes a Lenten promise (written out), and prays a morning and evening prayer based on whether s/he kept that promise or broke it. If the child fulfills his Lenten promise, at the end of the day he will place one of the martyrs in the water with a crown on its head, which signifies that he earned the crown of eternal glory. If he broke his Lenten promise, the martyr goes into the water without a crown and an Act of Contrition is prayed. This is a brilliant way to help kids visualize the meaning of sacrifice.
The Mass Box is an innovative way for families to catechize their children throughout the year. Following a monthly subscription concept, the Mass Box is delivered to your home with projects and supplies relating to the enclosed Magnifikid readings for Sunday Masses and Holy Days during that particular month. Felicity opened her box and watched the instructional videos about her Ash Wednesday project as we discussed why we celebrate Lent and what certain liturgical colors mean. I highly recommend this for those who want to incorporate prayer, faith discussion, and creativity into their children’s Lenten experiences.
Crown of Thorns (Sacrifice Wreath)
This is somewhat similar the Advent version of the Sacrifice Manger, except the family follows a recipe for braided bread and inserts a box of toothpicks into the “crown.” Every time a child makes a sacrifice, s/he may take out one of the toothpicks, which represents assuaging His suffering through acts of mortification. Kids love this, and parents can join in! It makes for a perfect dining table centerpiece (and conversation starter at mealtimes).
Here’s an activity that not only encourages your children to grow in holiness but also serves as a colorful decoration to fill your home during Lent! The simple instructions include taking several different colors of construction paper, cutting them into equally sized strips, and then distributing one strip to each of your children each week at Lent (parents can join, too). Every member of the family writes down (or dictates, depending on age and ability) a special prayer, sacrifice, or work of mercy they plan to implement that week. Once this is complete, loop and secure the first piece of paper. Then create a chain by repeating this step. Watch your chain grow as Lent progresses.
Remembering the Lamb
This Lenten activity is a bit different than some of the other, typical ones mentioned already. First, find a copyright free image or outline of a lamb and paste it onto a blank document and print. Explain to your kids that Jesus is the Lamb of God, because He was the sacrificial lamb who died for our sins. Each time we pray, we honor and please Jesus. Children are encouraged to remember specific prayers, and once they’re able to recite them from memory, they can contribute a cotton ball to the lamb image. The goal, of course, is to have the entire lamb covered in “fleece” before Easter Sunday.
Jesus in the Garden Diorama
As a rather creative alternative to the two-dimensional version, families can create a diorama using a shoe box (or something similar) and paste the pattern from the link above into the background of the box. Kids can determine what other objects they’d like to use to make the scene more realistic by adding texture and color. Use this as a meditation piece throughout Lent once it’s complete.
Good Deeds Bracelet
The good deeds bracelet is a tangible way for children to remember the importance of making sacrifices every day. The beads on the bracelet begin in one position and, as the child wearing it performs a work of mercy, s/he moves one bead on the bracelet to the other side. The goal, of course, is to have all of the beads moved by the end of the day.
CRS Rice Bowl
The Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl has been a classic Lenten activity in my family of origin since I was in elementary school. I always enjoyed placing my allowance in the box during Lent and couldn’t wait to count it all up after Easter. I think what makes this activity such an easy tradition is that it’s a perfect way for us to give alms by tossing in our extra change that may otherwise go into a jar for savings. Kids love this, too, when parents explain how different monetary tiers correspond with a specific donation for a family or community (such as providing water or rice). We keep ours on the dining room table and allow the girls to earn money to place in the bowl for every kind deed they perform.
Making a Paschal Candle
There are beautiful varieties of Paschal candles available on the market, but making one can provide a perfect opportunity for families to communicate about the spiritual significance of light and darkness. Each image on the candle represents some specific tenet of our faith and can be explained while securing it on the candle; they include the alpha and omega symbol and a cross, with optional symbols including grapes and wheat, a dove, or a lamb with a victory banner. (To make your own, simple obtain copyright free images of these, print, and affix with glue. You can opt to make a felt “flame” in lieu of lighting the candle for safety’s sake.)
Stations of the Cross Candles
What a powerful way to pray the Stations as a family. If you are unable to attend a formal Stations of the Cross recitation with your parish, why not create a similar ambience in your home? Purchase fourteen small, white candles in glass cases, and then print this template. Cut out each image and secure on separate candles. As you pray the Stations, you light each respective candle. In the end, your mantle will be illuminated with a beautiful symbol of the Light of the World.
Our Catholic faith is so rich with traditions and symbols. Liturgical seasons offer us opportunities to learn more about what our traditions mean and how we can incorporate sacramental into our daily lives. Lenten activities are versatile – including all aspects of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving – and can be personalized according to each child’s ability. Parents can discuss specific aspects of our faith with their children while assisting in creating many of these activities, as well. Since children learn best by repetition and kinesthetic work, it’s likely that they will remember and appreciate some of these old or new traditions that your family may choose to celebrate every Lenten season.
Despite our qualms about the penitential and ashen perspective of Lent, we can create a season of anticipation – as we do for Advent. In turn, we may find ourselves looking forward to and enjoying Lent this year and hereafter.