8 Ideas for a Family Lent 2021
Here are eight fresh ideas for your family’s second pandemic Lent
Lent 2021 is around the corner and, for many families, it may feel like we never actually left Lent 2020. But the Church doesn’t “cancel” Lent during hard times any more than it cancels Christmas or Easter. Our human lives, with their patterns of love, sin, joy and sorrow, carry on day by day and so does our need for this season of penance. Like Advent, Lent gives us the chance to step out of the desert of this pandemic-ridden world and into the overwhelming flood of God’s mercy. If anything, Lent during a pandemic, war, or economic downturn, becomes more necessary than ever: If we are living the Passion in our small ways, how much more will we marvel that God himself would come to suffer with us and for us?
So here are eight fresh ideas for your family’s second pandemic Lent.
1. Ask Forgiveness
This year, consider adopting some of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions for this great season. In some Eastern Rites, the Forgiveness Vespers at the start of Great Lent includes a rite when priest and congregants individually ask forgiveness of one another. Everyone turns to their neighbor and begs, “Please forgive me.” The response is simply, “I forgive you.” Then the conversation is reversed — the forgiving friend becomes the penitent and ask pardon of the one they have forgiven.
I cannot express how moving this rite is in a parish setting or around a family table. Consider holding a simple Forgiveness Vespers on the First Sunday of Lent: The head of the household first forgives each member and then asks their forgiveness. Every member of the family then repeats the ritual with every other member. It may feel awkward at first, but the words themselves effective, renewing our relationships with one another. The rest of Lent can then be focused on receiving God’s own forgiveness, because we began by forgiving those who trespassed against us.
2. Pray with St. Ephrem
For family meals during Lent, instead of the traditional Table Blessing (or in addition to it!), consider repeating the Prayer of St. Ephrem. Byzantine Catholics consider the prayer as the most perfect and concise summary of the purpose of Lent from one of the Church’s most ancient doctors and poets. You will also learn a new prayer upon which you can call throughout the liturgical year!
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
3. Fasting from Food
For me, lockdowns make fasting and abstinence particularly daunting. I like my food and drink and derive great comfort from them both when my usual outlets for relaxation and enjoyment are closed. The pandemic has shone a light on just how much we as a family depend on food and drink for strength and solace. I hate to admit it, but this is an area we need to work on this year.
After we celebrate Carnivale (which literally means “Good-bye, Meat” in Latin), we are going to add one day of abstinence to the required Fridays of Lent. This means abstaining from meat on both Wednesdays and Fridays. According to their ages, parents and children can commit to other forms of fasting (sweets, for example) on these days as well. The key is to focus on the joy that comes from fasting: when we make a sacrifice to God of something that is good in itself (meat, sugar, wine), we are declaring by our actions that he alone suffices. We also express in a visible, physical way our desire to suffer with him out of gratitude. So, consider saying “carnivale” to meat as a family and offering that sacrifice to God together.
4. A Family Almsgiving
In the first few weeks of Lent, determine as a family to what charities you will give money. This can be done in the comfort of your own home around the table: offer two or three options and let the children discuss to whom the money should go this year. Making your charitable gift a family discussion is a great opportunity to teach your children about men and women who spend their adult lives in service and almsgiving: religious sisters and brothers, philanthropists, and evangelists. Let them ask questions about the different charities and present these lives of service as exciting and noble aspirations. Perhaps you are raising the next Mother Teresa this Lent!
5. Feed the Hungry
Lent 2021 may not include the usual opportunities to give of your time and talent at your parish, but families can still find ways to give together. Include your children of all ages in collecting non-perishable food for the poor. If possible, shop with your children and allow them to use allowance money to buy foods that they particularly enjoy. By selecting what they love and giving it freely away, they are actually proclaiming the dignity of the poor, who are deserving of our very best, not just the cans of beans we have leftover in our pantry.
6. Make Room for the Lord
A Lenten Spring cleaning is another great weekend family activity. In addition to purging the junk and broken toys from your home, commit to each person giving something of real value to them to the poor. I often remind my children of the scene in The Sound of Music where Maria explains her ugly, homemade dress to Captain von Trapp: “The poor didn’t want this one.” Give the poor what is beautiful, well-made, and what you yourself would want to receive.
7. Veil Your Statues
Fasting can also be visual, and the Church has a longstanding tradition of veiling statues and religious icons in its churches following the Fifth Sunday of Lent (“Passion Sunday”). For a family with young children, bringing this practice home is a simple but effective reminder of Christ progress toward his death. Use dark-colored sheets, mantillas or fabric swatches to cover your family’s crucifix, icons, statues and images of the saints from after Mass on the Fifth Sunday until after the Easter Vigil. (The crucifix should be unveiled on Good Friday.) Children will remember this visual cue for years to come and their natural questions will open up a family conversation about Lent, Christ’s love for us, and his Passion.
8. Assist at the Sacred Triduum
Crown your Lenten prayers with the greatest prayer of all: the celebration of the Triduum. If you have never brought your family to the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, commit now to being at all three this year. The three together actually form one, united liturgy: notice that the priest begins Holy Thursday with the Sign of the Cross and does not offer a final blessing or dismissal until the close of the Easter Vigil. We are held in one, continuous Mass for three days. COVID-19 restrictions this year will likely require planning ahead of time, but make every effort to bring your children to the entire Triduum at a parish with a reverent liturgical reputation. They will never forget it.
Whatever your family commitments this Lent, include your children and never shy away. No matter how difficult ordinary life feels this year, the added Lenten practices will only serve to show that truly, “his yoke is easy and his burden is light.”