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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ideas for Lent with Traditional Inspiration

Coming up with a good Lenten penance is often challenging for faithful Catholics. We might have high ambitions, but choosing and sticking with a Lenten sacrifice can be difficult. In my post on the historical background of Lenten practices in the U.S., I detailed the traditional fast and abstinence requirements. Perhaps the most striking point we might observe from the pre-1966 American fast/abstinence regulations is that they were very strict in comparison to our current regulations. The fast that now characterizes only our Ash Wednesday and Good Friday was in fact the standard fast for every day of Lent (excepting solemnities such as Sundays).

One question we might ask is how American Catholics once adhered to these obligations. There is much that could be said on this topic, but in short, I suggest two explanations: 1. They practiced penance throughout the year, hence developing it as a habit or virtue. 2. They did these penances together, as all the faithful were obliged to follow the same regulations. 

So if you find it hard to stick to your own chosen Lenten sacrifice, keep the above in mind. Lenten penance can be difficult, and that's partly because penance is not meant to be relegated to forty days of the year, nor is it meant to be done alone.When the bishops of the United States changed the penitential practices in the U.S., they introduced a great deal more choice, which in turn led to an individualism in the practice of penance. While this did provide the opportunity for Catholics to explore penances that would be more penitential for them than the standard, obligatory penances, it also diminished the communal support present in the practice of penance.

Nonetheless, there are ways that we can seek to base our own Lenten practices on the traditional (Latin-rite) Catholic sacrifices. Here are a few ideas.

Regarding fast/abstinence from food, note that traditionally Catholics abstained from meat, eggs, and dairy on the forty days of Lent. Hence you or your family might consider one of the options below:

1. Abstaining from meat during Lent.
2. Abstaining from eggs and dairy during Lent.
3. Observing the workingman's indult that limited meat-intake to once a day.

Today, with the variety of food available, the above sacrifices can be practiced without great inconvenience. So you might also consider adding:

1. Abstaining from dining out/ordering in food.
2. Abstaining from processed foods, or aiming for at least an 80/20 ratio of non-processed to processed foods.
3. Committing yourself to using up as much food in your pantry as possible while simultaneously limiting the food you purchase in your regular food shopping trip.
      (3a. You might also consider abstaining from clothes/shoes shopping during Lent, while also cleaning out your closet.)
4. Abstaining from sweets.
5. Abstaining from all beverages excepting water or milk. 

It was a typical practice to abstain from or give up certain forms of entertainment during Lent. Today, much of our entertainment comes in the form of technology. Hence you might consider:

1. Abstaining from or limiting time on the Internet, on Facebook specifically, playing online games, etc.
2. Abstaining from or curtailing time spent on watching television or movies.
3. Abstaining from or limiting online shopping.

Of course, there are two other practices included in the traditional triad of penance: prayer and almsgiving.

The sacrifices made in regard to food consumption should result in decreased spending and hence the opportunity to increase charitable giving.

The sacrifices made in regard to limiting technology should result in additional time for increased prayer. Consider one of these practices:

1. Praying the Rosary.
2. Praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
3. Attending regular Eucharistic adoration.
4. Attending daily Mass.
5. Reading the daily Mass readings.
6. Spending five minutes a day reading from one of the gospels.
7. Spending 10-15 minutes a day talking to God in mental prayer.
8. Committing 5-15 minutes a day to spiritual reading.
9. Praying the Stations of the Cross, especially on Fridays.
10. Keeping a gratitude journal to thank God for your blessings.

If it is possible, you might also want to consider the possibility of donating your time by volunteering for a charity or engaging directly in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

If your family life or work schedule do not permit volunteering for an organization, these practices can nonetheless be integrated into your life in whatever you do, including how you interact with your family.

Because Lenten resolutions are more feasible when done together, you might try to do one of the above practices as a family or as a group of friends. Remember, penance ought to be communal. Also, when Lent is over, celebrate Easter! But don't lose the penitential spirit altogether. Keep in mind that penance was never meant to be relegated to only 40 days of the year. Regular practice, e.g. on Fridays, will help you to ease into Lent again next year and hence allow you to intensify your Lenten practice.

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