SummaryIf Lent seems to come sooner every year, don’t worry! Mary Donellan has eight spiritually rich ideas and old traditions to inspire your homeschool for Lent.
If Advent seems daunting to plan for, with all the potential projects, prayers, and traditions that come with it, surely preparing for Lent must seem even more difficult!
Not only does Lent last several weeks longer, it’s also more rigorous and more sober. Out of the entire liturgical year, Lent is the most obvious battlefield for our spiritual struggles, failures, and attempts to mortify ourselves and grow closer to Christ.
As if this weren’t enough to daunt us, late winter and early spring are busy seasons for us homeschoolers. We enter the last phase of school for the year; sports practices and other activities kick in, and many families prepare to celebrate Sacraments such as First Communion and Confirmation.
On top of our normal chaotic lives, this added busyness makes it difficult for us to maintain that spirit of reflection and penance that Lent calls for.
So . . . let’s admit it. Sometimes, it’s just a little hard to be truly excited about Lent. Our human nature doesn’t exactly jump towards mortification, does it? (Mine doesn’t, anyway . . .)
So, where do we even begin to make Lent a fruitful and holy season? How do we get a fresh perspective on Lent and make it special and effective in our spiritual lives, and in our homeschool, this year?
Here are eight easy ideas to get us started!
1. Start off your day with Gregorian chant
Gregorian chant is one of the Church’s most treasured modes of musical adoration, going back to the early Middle Ages.
Its beautiful, often haunting plainchant is a taste of Lent’s solemnity and austerity—but also its joy. Yes, Lent is joyous! Joyous, because the more we deny ourselves during this holy season, the purer our hearts become to worship and serve Our Lord. Thus, the voices of faithful monks and nuns singing their sacred chants to God remind us of that simple joy that comes from loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
So why not turn on a little of this heavenly sound to start off your Lenten mornings? Play it even before the kids get up; have it softly in the background when you’re making breakfast or starting the first load of laundry.
It can work wonders on your piety during the day; it makes dirty dishes and grumpy children seem less taxing, or at least reminds you to offer up the suffering! I’ve even heard of parents playing it to get cranky babies to sleep!
Most importantly, listening to plainchant lifts your heart and quiets your spirit, because it reminds you of the transcendence of our Faith and the beautiful mysteries of God.
Gregorian chant is available for free on Pandora and Youtube; there are also many beautiful CDs of chant available for online purchase.
2. Practice mini-fasts
Did you know that, traditionally, lay Catholics were expected to fast every weekday of Lent? Can you even imagine trying to get through all your Lenten homeschool days on half or less of the food you’re used to?! (In other words: total collapse of all peaceful family infrastructure.)
While this seems nearly impossible, or at least very daunting, I’m still moved by the importance the Church has always placed on the practice of fasting as a work of penance, petition, and reparation.
So . . . what if we met things in the middle? What if we took inspiration from St. Therese’s “Little Way” and tried to practice mini-fasts on certain days of the week during Lent?
We might simply try to eat smaller portions, blander meals, or forgo between-meal snacks, for one or two days out of the week (Wednesday and Friday are traditionally penitential days). It’s a challenge—but an achievable one. While not a full-blown “fast,” mini-fasts still achieve the purposes of fasting: reparation and mortification.
Mini-fasts keep us just hungry enough to remind us that we’re denying ourselves for a reason: for the glory of God and in penance for our sins. On top of this, we can also fast for the intentions of those we know and love, for priests and religious, for an end to abortion . . . the possibilities are almost endless!
Depending on the age of your children and any relevant health factors, mini-fasts are generally achievable, and they help us to go further than the bare minimum which the Church currently requires of Her faithful.
What a beautiful way to deepen our practice of Lent!
3. Stay longer after Mass on Sundays (if possible!)
Is your family like mine? Once Mass is over, we’re hungry, itchy in our church clothes, and ready for a little nourishment and some sunshine.
Sadly, depending on the parish you attend, you may see people hurrying out of Mass as soon as they receive Communion. Others, as soon as the priest has processed out, immediately burst into conversation while still inside the nave.
While we all make it a point to remain at Mass until it’s truly finished, and to stay quiet until we’re no longer in the Presence of the Eucharist, what if we tried praying after Mass for a few minutes longer than usual?
Traditionally, the Church has urged her faithful to remain a full fifteen minutes after Mass, offering prayers of thanksgiving. While our restless toddlers and hungry kids might make fifteen minutes difficult, even two minutes of our time would be a beautiful Lenten gift to God!
Some prayers that seem especially appropriate for the end of Mass would be the Divine Praises, the Hail, Holy Queen, the Saint Michael, or the Act of Love. But no matter what you might choose to pray together as a family—or even if it’s simply reverent silence and adoration in front of the tabernacle—it will deepen your love for God, increase your gratitude for the Mass, and exercise the virtue of piety in your souls. What better way to enrich your Lent?
4. Bring the Ember Days into your homeschool
Traditionally, the Ember Days were special days of prayer and penance that used to be very familiar to all the faithful! According to the 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal, “At the beginning of the four seasons of the Ecclesiastical Year, the Ember Days have been instituted by the Church to thank God for blessings obtained during the past year and to implore further graces for the new season . . . The faithful ought to pray on these days for good priests.”
Three of these special Ember Days occur during Lent (for the beginning of Springtime): on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the First Sunday of Lent.
There are numerous Scripture readings and prayers assigned for the Ember Days, and they’re also meant to be days of fasting, or you could adapt these traditions to your own family and homeschool and simply make them days of special prayer and gratitude in your household!
5. Divide the Litany of Saints across the weeks of Lent
One relatively easy and fun new tradition would be to pray successive sections of the Litany of Saints for each week of Lent.
Since the Litany of Saints is prayed in full during the Easter Vigil, spreading out the litany across the six-and-a-half weeks of Lent would be a beautiful way to anticipate the coming Triduum and Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, as well as to ask all the saints’ intercession for a blessed and fruitful Lent!
You could include this mini-litany in your morning or evening prayers, before supper, or while on the road. The task of leading the mini-litany could be delegated to different family members depending on the week.
6. Make St. Joseph the patron of your Lent
St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19th, falls in the middle of Lent, and it recently occurred to me what a wonderful patron saint he would make for any Catholic family’s Lent. During this season, we ask Christ to lead us “into the desert,” where we can fast and pray in imitation of Him. So let us seek help from St. Joseph, who courageously led our Blessed Mother and the Christ Child into the desert during the flight to Egypt.
Between fasting, prayer, almsgiving, sober reflections, and sacrifices, Lent can feel taxing and eventually mundane. So what better saint to make our Lenten patron than St. Joseph, who spent decades working in the same shop, in the same sawdust, in the same impoverished town, to provide for the Holy Family?
His faith, patience, courage, and obedience are exactly what we need to fulfill our Lenten resolutions and deny ourselves. So why not put his statue or image in a prominent place in your home, write down your hopes and resolutions for Lent, and place them at his feet?
St. Joseph, ora pro nobis!
7. Pray St. Ambrose’s “Morning Hymn”
Over the past year, my family began reciting this old prayer each morning, and it strikes me over and over again as a prayer especially suited for Lent.
It’s simple (and it rhymes! Hooray!) . . . so you might like to add it to your homeschool morning prayers.
Now that the star of light is risen, let us to God most humbly pray
To save us from all hurtful things in all our actions of the day;
To bridle and restrain our tongue, that wordy war may not resound;
To cover and protect our sight from dangerous follies all around;
To drive iniquity away, and purify our inmost soul
And by spare use of meat and drink, our rebel passions to control;
That when the day has sped away, and He again the night shall bring,
We may, through holy abstinence, with purity His glory sing.
All glory to the Father be;
All praise, Eternal Son, to Thee;
All honor as is ever meet
To God the Holy Paraclete!
8. Plan a Mary Garden
Finally, with spring just around the corner, why not start planning a Mary Garden for your family?
Fisheaters.com lists it as a custom for the season of Lent, and it certainly seems appropriate to begin planning a small Mary Garden right when everything is preparing to bloom!
The garden doesn’t have to be extensive; one year, my family just made mini-gardens contained in flowerpots. However you do it, it’s a beautiful tradition, and a fun way to spend your Lent outside, honoring Our Lady!
No matter how we try to enrich our upcoming Lent, let’s remember to entrust all our efforts to Our Lady, St. Joseph, and to all the saints. They are more than willing to help us every moment of the day!
As individuals and homeschooling families, let’s resolve to do the best we can for God this Lent, but never forget that the Lord is ever kind and merciful to the truly contrite of heart.
Have a blessed Lent!