Living Liturgically in Lent
Lent, when approached with an open heart and a solid game plan, can yield stunning fruits.
As Catholics, we are well acquainted with the notion of “giving something up” for Lent. This idea of penance is rich in Tradition and is certainly a valuable practice.
However, by focusing too much on what we are giving up, Lent can start to feel a little less like a spiritual season of growth. This year, in addition to giving something up, look for ways to live Lent as you go about your day. By incorporating external practices that aren’t strictly penances, you may find Lent to be an even more enriching season.
Here are four ideas I’ve curated from my own trial and error.
Make It Tangible
I love decorating my home. A vase of flowers on the bathroom sink, a piece of art hung in a corner — I try to make even the smallest parts of my home feel intimate.
During Lent, however, I intentionally remove some (but not all) of these details. Throughout the year, I almost always have fresh flowers in my home. This is one of my simplest yet greatest joys. However, during Lent, I remove them. If anything, I will put simple greens or dried stems in a vase.
This is a tangible, daily reminder of the suffering of Christ; that this is not a season of verdant fields, but, rather, of sorrow and death. By seeing empty vases or dried stems, I am nudged to consecrate that present moment and unite myself with the suffering Christ. It may not be flowers for you, but as you live Lent this season, look around your home and reflect on how you may incorporate a reminder of the Passion into your space.
When is it not a good idea for us to frequent the sacraments? But if ever there was an excellent time, I think it’s Lent.
The sacrament of reconciliation is particularly powerful for me during Lent. In reconciliation, we experience our own sort of death and resurrection: death by our sin; resurrection through the mercy of Jesus. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church so aptly puts it, “In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life” (1470).
It is the moment when Jesus speaks to us from the cross, “Father, forgive them.” Whether or not you’ve been in the habit of going, look for a time this Lent to receive this great gift from God, and allow it to draw you right to the foot of the cross.
Many parishes provide additional penance services during this season. Grab a bulletin after Mass, or check your parish website. The graces received will provide welcome assistance in your Lenten efforts.
Go Into the Desert
Daily prayer is the bastion of Christian life. We know well the impact it can have on our hearts and our lives. Yet, how often do days melt into weeks, and a quiet moment is ne’er to be found?
This Lent, recalibrate. Accept the gentle invitation to the desert, where Jesus is waiting. This will likely look different for each one of us, so I won’t try to offer a rubric.
Rather, ask the Holy Spirit where the bits and scraps of time may be, and invite him to knit them together into a moment of prayer. I love starting my day in prayer.
But sometimes this just doesn’t happen. On those days, I find the sacred at my sink. Doing dishes has become a real place of encounter for me, as the running water serves as a soothing white noise and the humble work becomes a lowly offering.
We all have these spaces in our days: the morning commute, meal preparation, lunch breaks, and so on. Perhaps, this Lent, swap the podcast or phone call for a few minutes of silence. He is waiting!
Befriend a Saint
One of my favorite aspects of being a Catholic is our belief in the communion of saints. “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …” (Hebrews 12:1).
Perhaps you are already devoted to a certain saint, or maybe multiple ones: If so, use this Lent to get to know them better.
Start by finding an image of one that you like, and put it where you’ll see it frequently. When you see the image, allow it to be a catalyst for prayer; the saints love drawing us closer to the heart of Jesus.
There are books, devotionals, email subscriptions and beyond, providing Lenten guidance from the saints. Do some research.
Let a favorite saint accompany you to Calvary.
If you don’t know where to start, look to your confirmation saint, or use the Saints Name Generator. There are many to choose from, and you won’t be led astray.
It’s easy to dread Lent. The days are shorter, where I live the temperature is colder, and giving up my daily comforts is a small trial.
But Lent, when approached with an open heart and a solid game plan, can yield stunning fruits, made manifest in the death and resurrection of the Lord.
St. Josemaría Escrivá boldly directs us, “We cannot regard this Lent as just another liturgical season which has simply happened to come around again. It is a unique time: a divine aid which we should accept. Jesus is passing by, and he hopes that we will take a great step forward — today, now” (Christ Is Passing By, 59).
Bridget McCartney Nohara, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, writes from Ontario, Canada.