The True Meaning of "Giving Something Up"

Ash Wednesday Lent

By Allison Gingras

As a child, you may have thought Lent meant giving up chocolate. Helping children understand the blessing of all three Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can enhance the entire family’s Lenten experience. 

Mastering holiness is not an easy job; it takes perseverance and repetition, something the liturgical calendar serves to remind us. This time allows each person an opportunity to reset and strengthen their faith. As we read in Matthew’s Gospel, prayer, fasting, and charity provide a simple framework for families to flex their creativity and grow together in faith. 

Let’s take a look at each area, and look at a few ideas and resources to explain these concepts to children.


The tradition of the Catholic Church features four types of prayer. These include Adoration or Blessing, Contrition or Repentance, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, also known as Petition or Intercession. Throughout Lent, families may wish to work together to write a prayer for each category, which will help children understand the difference between each type of prayer and when to use them. Personalizing these prayers for your family also teaches children the value of prayer in one’s everyday life.

Pope St. John Paul II referred to the Rosary as the “School of Mary,” as the mysteries teach us about Jesus, making this prayer not only one of the most powerful but also the most educational. The Catholic Rosary Fan is a colorful booklet that includes 42 pages of eye-catching illustrations depicting the prayers of the Rosary with all four Luminous mysteries. The sturdy Rosary Fan, bound by a metal grommet, makes it easy to carry everywhere you go and perfect for long car rides or a companion at Mass.

Perhaps, your child does best with variety? Having a new prayer to recite together each night of Lent keeps children interested and exposes them to the rich Catholic prayer tradition. My Heavenly Friends Prayer Card Collection includes 70 full-color, laminated prayer cards, each with a prayer on the back. 

Bedtime has long been a favorite time to share a story and prayer. I Love to Pray provides an opportunity to combine them both. This book of traditional Catholic prayers and colorful illustrations will inspire children in their prayer-walk with God and makes a perfect Lenten read. 

Fasting and Almsgiving

Fasting and acts of charity are essential parts of our Lenten journey. For children, you may find explaining how they may work together makes the most sense to them. Lent is a time of sacrifice and penance, we abstain from meat on Fridays, and adults will have two days of fasting. Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross; we unite ourselves in a small yet significant way when we, too, sacrifice things we enjoy. We also want to use this time to recognize Jesus in others.

It’s about thinking less of what we want and looking to see how we can be Jesus in the world to others. Families may choose to use this time to declutter closets and toy bins, blessing their belongings forward. Some families save money during Lent by fasting from different activities and foods. As a family, consider what things you can fast from that would afford you money to give to others, maybe buying generic forms of your favorite cereal or ice cream. Consider not purchasing unessential items, toys, or foods during Lent and using money saved to donate to your family’s favorite cause.

Prayers for a blessed Lent with your family!

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