I don't know about you, but I LOVE the weeks before Lent. It's like dreaming of the party before you sit down and make the menu.
So, even though we're days away, we've been planning. This will be my fourth Lent, and there are a few things I've learned. The first is that it news to be simple, always. Maybe there will be times for retreats and stuff later when the kids are older, but for now, simple is the best for us. My strategy for this year was Shop At Home, and this is how we pulled it together.
This past Advent I made the HUGE mistake of not building the straw crib for baby Jesus, where the children add a piece of straw for every good deed through the day, so Jesus can have a soft place to be born. I mean, it was a huge mistake. The kids? Totally lost the reason for Advent. I will not be making that mistake again, and Lent's version of the Christ Crib is the Crown of Thorns.
On a cake platter I have a big bread/roll basket I piked up at a thrift somewhere. It was one of those, "Take it or I toss it," moments, so I took it. (I use it All The Time for a myriad of things). In this case, it is hiding the crow base, which is just a grapevine wreath that I use as a wreath base. Then we count out toothpicks, (40 for every child+ some) The candles are old Advent candles for us to light each Sunday for dinner because kids love candles at dinner. Liturgical colors? Score.
If I had to do ONE thing for Lent, it would be this. It takes what they know-that we must act in love-and turns it into a physical reality. It trains a habit. In this case, acts of love will take thorns out of Jesus' crown.
If you can, read Maria Von Trapp's sec on on Lent in Around the Year with the Von Trapps. That is EWTN's link to just the text.
Septuagesima To Ash Wednesday With Septuagesima Sunday begins the cycle that has for its center the greatest of all solemnities, the feast of Easter. The Christmas cycle and the Easter cycle are like the water and wine at the Offertory when the priest prays: "Grant that by the mystery of this water and wine we may be made partakers of His Divinity, Who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord." For in the Christmas cycle we celebrate God having come down among us, clothing Himself with our humanity. This is the cycle of the Incarnation, corresponding to the cycle of the Redemption where we are shown this same Jesus Who "makes us partakers of His Divinity."
These two and a half weeks--the Septuagesima, Sexuagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays, and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday following Quinquagesima--serve as a time of transition for the soul, which must pass from Christmas joys (and through the merry time of Carnival) to the stern penance of the sacred forty days of Lent. The fast is not yet an obligation, but the color of the vestments is already violet. The Gloria during Holy Mass is suspended, and the martyrology introduces Septuagesima Sunday as that Sunday on which "we lay aside the song of the Lord which is Alleluia." In medieval times they used to "bury the Alleluia" solemnly in the cathedral and in the abbey churches. This custom was nearly forgotten, but we came across it again on the happy day when we were privileged to celebrate Holy Mass in the creative and inspired parish of our friend, Monsignor Martin Hellriegel. There, in a solemn procession, the school children carried a wooden tablet on which was engraved the word "Alleluia" through the main aisle of the church over to the altar of the Blessed Mother where they put it at her feet and covered it with a purple cloth. There it would remain until Easter, when, in a triumphant tone of voice, the priest would intone, for the first time after forty days, a three-fold Alleluia.
This impressed us so deeply that we wished it could be introduced into all parish churches, to make the congregation conscious that Alleluia is the ancient Hebrew chant of triumph with which a victor was hailed after the battle. It is also the chant St. John heard in heaven, as he tells us in the Apocalypse. This Alleluia has to be suspended in a time devoted to fathoming the thought that we are "poor, banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." Only in the Easter festivities shall we again hail Our Lord, the victor over Satan, Who will reopen to us the kingdom of heaven.
In these weeks of the pre-Lenten season, the mother of the family has much to teach her children. She will introduce them to the meaning of the color of violet in church. She will prepare them for the forty sacred days of retreat, and will help them to formulate their Lenten resolutions, which should be written on a sheet of paper and placed on the house altar. It is important that Lenten resolutions do not use the negative approach only, such as, "I won't do this" and "I won't do that." They should start positively, with "I will use these three books" (this as soon as the child can read); "I will use the time I save by abstaining from television for this and this...." "I will use the money I save by not going to the movies for alms given to…."
It is a precious time, a time for the mother to introduce her children to the three ancient good works--prayer, fasting, and giving of alms--with which we can atone for our sins. It will take root in young hearts, never to be forgotten.
And, as other families do, we have Lenten readings. I have daily bible reading for the children, prayers, and we all have our own things we are working on and placing on the altar.
We also always have printed out Lydia's beautiful Lent Calendars which she so graciously offers for free each year. It's a beautiful way to mark time.
With Lent is St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Feast Day, Mothering Sunday, And Laetare Sunday all building up to Passion Week.
This year, during Passion week, I am finally going to watch The Passion, which I have had for years, still in its cling wrap. I just couldn't before. And now I'm hoping I can.
Other than that, we're all working on our own things. Things that are personal, and maybe not so obvious but things that need the help of Lent. One thing that I will share is my need to become closer to Our Lady. I keep trying. And trying. I'm looking forward to this lent to really help.