By Colleen Pressprich
Right now, Catholics around the world are focusing on their Lenten sacrifices. But what does that mean? And why do we sacrifice?
Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (CCC 1434).
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three cornerstones of Lenten observance. Each Lent we are called to all three in a special way, and while every person’s Lenten sacrifices may differ, the focus of them all is conversion.
During Lent, we have a special opportunity to make good use of our free will.
What does the Church require?
Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Catholics ages 14 years old and up are required to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
So does this mean that Children don’t have to participate in Lent?
No! Not at all. While the rules for fastings are just for adults, and children are not required to participate in them, children are encouraged to take part in the many other aspects of Lent.
Ideas for kids
There are many options for helping your children enter into Lent. Here are a few that my family has found fruitful over the years.
- Add a family prayer time: By adding even a quick prayer time to your day (you can center it around a meal or other daily activity to help you with consistency), you’ll help define the prayerfulness of the season of Lent. Prayer time can be as simple as saying a Hail Mary for a different loved one each day.
- Try out St. Therese’s sacrifice bead: St. Therese used to attempt to make 10 small sacrifices for the Lord each day. She would keep a set of slide-able beads in her pocket to help her keep track of where she was. There are lots of DIY options or beads for purchase online for families who want to encourage their kids to make sacrifices of love in her honor this Lent.
- Acts of Kindness: In the same vein as the idea above, helping your children to choose to be intentionally kind is a beautiful Lenten practice. I find that helping my kids focus on being kind to their siblings is a sacrifice that helps our whole family.
- Giving up bad habits: Because Lent is a time that we are encouraged to get rid of the things that keep us from God, it’s also an apt time to help our kids give up those bad habits they’ve acquired, whatever they may be.
- Reverse sacrifices: These are wonderful for families because instead of giving something up, in a reverse sacrifice we add something to our life that will actively help bring us closer to God. Examples of this would be adding a Christian radio station to your FM presets in the car, stopping by Church once a week to pop in and say hi to Jesus, or even choosing to read a faith-based book to your kids each day of Lent.
I hope that these tips help you and your family have a fruitful Lent!
Colleen Pressprich is the author of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children and The Women Doctors of the Church. She is a homeschooling mom of five who lives with her family in Michigan.