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  • Kenton E. Biffert

Ten Lenten Family Traditions

One of the greatest gifts I've received is living according to a liturgical calendar. Moving from season to season, from Advent to Christmas to time after Epiphany and now to Lent - it brings a rhythm and a direction to living. The children to learn to live by it. The younger ones are always asking, "What comes next?" "Whose feast day do we celebrate next?" "What do we do on that day?"

Lent is a major season of the year and we take it seriously as a family. The better we journey through Lent, the more sacrifices we make, the greater and more meaningful Easter is. I can't imagine, after living Lent, ever celebrating Easter without it.

Before I jump into our Lenten journey, let's first review the majors:

a. Lent includes Fasting, Prayer and Alms-giving.

b. Lent includes abstaining (usually from meat on Fridays).

c. On Sundays, we should let up our fast, but keep abstaining.

d. Pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays.

e. Go to confession at least once before Easter.

Here are ten things that we do as a family to journey through Lent as a family:

1) Family Abstention: As a family we choose things to abstain from. This usually includes movies, alcohol (for Dad), sweets, devices and so forth. This also includes picking days where Mom won't cook meat for supper.

2) Fasting: This part is more personal. Each person down to the six year old tries to fast in some way. Usually it means going without snacks between meals for the younger ones, or incentive snacks at least, and skipping a meal for the older ones.

3) Prayer: I swear, there is no convenient time to pray as a family. One child needs a diaper change, another needs a nap, this one just had a melt-down, Dad has to go to work, the walk needs to be shovelled and so on and so forth. So, one just needs to do it. Schedule it into your day and pray together.

On Fridays, we pray the Stations of the Cross. To engage the younger ones during this time, we do it in different ways. One time each child will gather a collection of sticks, rocks and such. Then, with their pile, they must make something to represent each station before we pray it. Another time, we'll walk through the forest and look for spots in nature that could

symbolize the station we are praying. For e.g.: a broken tree leaning on another tree could symbolize Simon helping Jesus carry the cross. This one is usually done on the Friday during Lenten Ember Days. One could use play dough as well to make the stations. And of course, we visit the Churches that have the Stations outside through the forest.

4) Sacrifice Jar: My wife came up with 40 sacrifices the children could do. They range from helping Mommy clear the table, to spending 15min. of time with the baby, to changing a diaper. The children, throughout the day, pick sacrifices and deliver on them. If they get a certain amount, we allow them a treat on Sunday ... though this treat becomes less and less the closer we get to Passiontide ...

5) Pilgrimage: During the 40 days we try to take a pilgrimage to a holy site together as a family and to offer it up for those we are praying for.

6) Dispensations: As the father, I decide whether or not there will be break in our Lent fast to celebrate an important day. St. Patrick's is one of these days. On Valentine's I take my daughter's on a date and on St. Patrick's I take out the boys. So, to avoid a riot, we break fast on this feast day.

7) Pretzels: Whoever sets the table is to put a pretzel beside each person's plate (we use the rounded pretzels as they represent a traditional posture of prayer). Then, before we eat, and after the blessing, we go around and state what we are thankful for and eat our pretzel.

8) Koliva: On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Mom makes us Koliva. Koliva is a Byzantine Catholic dish that is used in funerals, but also during Lent. It is boiled wheat kernels sweetened with honey and nuts and berries. Very yummy! The death of the kernel of wheat reminds of us the upcoming death of Christ and our own death someday ...

9) Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, is the Catholic's Mother's Day, or Mothering Day taken from the reading in Galations 4, where we learn that "Jerusalem (meaning the Church) is our Mother." So, we visit the Cathedral and celebrate our Mom!

10) St. Therese sacrifice beads.

These beads, you carry in your pocket and each time you do a sacrifice, you move the bead one closer to the crucifix. The bead stays in place. The goal is to get ten sacrifices in per day. The children each made their own and do private sacrifices throughout the day.

And there you have it - by the time these are done, we are ready for Passiontide.

I'll have to cover Passiontide traditions in a different post.

Blessed Lent. Parent well. Pray lots.

Semper Fidelis,


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