Ash Wednesday will be here before we know it. Are you ready? No? Me neither! Thankfully we have a little more time. We are actually in the pre-Lenten preparation time traditionally known as Septuagesima or Shrovetide (depending on the tradition). I didn’t really know about the history of this period until our friend and local priest Fr. Matt Fish sent me some links. For those of you who are in the same boat, here are a few links that provide an overview and highlight traditions of this liturgical period.
I don’t know about you, but I always need time to prepare for each liturgical season. Lent is no exception. I really need a couple of weeks before Ash Wednesday to pray, eliminate distractions, and discern what God wants me to do during Lent. Without that time seeking God, Lent can easily become a self-improvement project. We can start to make a list of goals and plans for abstinences that have no connection to what God wants us to focus on during the upcoming 40 days.
So I encourage you to take this time — this Septuagesima or Shrovetide — to seek God’s plan for Lent in your personal life and in your home.
Fast, Pray, Give
I feel very challenged right now to make fasting more a part of the whole liturgically year, not just something I have to do during Lent. I realize how reluctant I am to deny myself anything I really want. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving work together; they are very much connected. We are often asked to give up certain things in order to replace them with others (either temporarily or permanently), and some of the best Lenten fasts for me have resulted in permanent lifestyle changes.
Other times our fasting is (or should be) directly connected to almsgiving. Unfortunately, in our affluent culture, it is more common to give out of our excess rather than give sacrificially. But one of the purposes of going without something that we normally enjoy is that someone else is blessed by our sacrifice — either through prayer or gift.
For example, during Lent many people eat very simple and inexpensive meals (or skip a meal entirely) and give the money that would go toward that meal to a homeless shelter or another charity. This sacrificial giving is at the heart of the Gospel. Remember Jesus’ comparison between the rich folks’ gifts and the gift of the poor widow? “…they gave out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had…” (Mark 12:44).
Finally, fasting strengthens our prayer lives and our faith like nothing else. Jesus was clear that certain miracles and other gifts of faith are only possible through “prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). We clearly see this evidenced in the lives of the saints; fasting, denying ourselves, brings greater fruit from our prayers.
What is God calling you to fast from, pray for, and give?
Lent in Your Domestic Church
Lent, like all of the liturgical seasons, is not just about our individual acts of penance and prayer. It is corporate as well, and the home (the Domestic Church) participates in a corporate expression of penance and prayer.
What should that look like in your home?
There are many opportunities for fasts, and you can start to help your children exercise their self-control and their free-will. You can let them make some choices about what to fast and what to give. When the idea of penance is presented in the correct spirit, it is not oppressive to children, though it may be challenging. You might be surprised how willing your children are to enter into the spirit of the season and make some sacrifices.
In addition to fasting something together, consider how your family can pray, worship, and reflect together. I just came across a wonderful resource for our Lenten family time — Lenten Morning Time Plans. They are designed for homeschool families, but they are packed with resources that any Catholic family could use during their family prayer and reflection time.
I encourage you to join in this pre-Lenten liturgical period. Use it to determine what God wants you and your family to put aside, give up, and pray about during Lent.