So, what are you giving up for Lent?

Let me go on record as saying I love Lent. It’s a wonderful time of preparation, and for all the fasting, abstaining and “quiet” time for prayer and introspection, it’s really quite cheerful – it’s like a spring cleaning for the soul.

Mark over at Stones Cry Out is asking a question from my childhood, wondering what folks are giving up for Lent, and what family traditions they take part in.

I love Ash Wednesday, I love seeing my fellow Catholics (and more and more Protestants) unashamedly wearing the mark of the cross on their foreheads, proclaiming both Christ Crucified and their own sinfulness and culpability in all of that which takes away Light. I love the 40 days of mindfulness, and extra care – the sacrifices we make which bring our minds, again and again, back to the ministry and passion of Christ and keep us looking resolutely toward Easter and Renewal. I love that Lent reminds us, over and over, that ours is a God of mercy and forgiveness and second chances, and unfathomable generosity. I love that for 40 days we do not sing the Gloria “Gloria, in excelsis Deo, Et in terra pax hominibus…” and we deny ourselves that pleasure because it means that every bell is rung and every stop is pulled out come Easter when we sing it with gusto.

I love the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, with its Washing of the Feet and long, instructive readings, then Good Friday, with its procession and the veneration of the cross – how moving when I see elderly people, stiff with age, bend to kiss the cross, and then see teenagers, small children…all of us together using our bodies in worship and reverence, even as their stomachs are rumbling. And then Holy Saturday – surely the longest day of the year – and the only day when there is not a Mass being said anywhere in the world…when the Tabernacle stands empty, reminding us of Christ in the cave – with a stone rolled before it, and the apostles and others thinking everything was over, and losing hope. Our minds return again and again to the whole terrible story.

And then the glory and tenderness, majesty and might of the Easter Vigil Mass, with its ancient readings and psalms, one by one bringing us closer to midnight and the promise of the Gospel…and then the bells toll, the organ blares! “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill!” and we hear the story again, of the women who wonder “who will roll away the stone…” and the meeting of Mary Magdalene and the Christ, and we know that He is with us still, even unto the ends of time…and then, the baptisms and confirmations, with catechumen’s faces lit with happiness – and we, celebrating their new life in Christ by calling down the help of “all holy men and women” in the haunting and wonderful Litany of the Saints – the Litany that reminds us of all the men and women who came before, from the very start, and still helps us even today with their intercessory prayer.

And then…we go home…and usually, we eat a sweet! Because we have been doing without for 40 days…and now the Bridegroom is here, and we will feast!

I will be making the sacrifice of rising for early Mass every day of Lent and swimming three times a week, which I hate to do in winter, because I must honor this creation of the body that God has given me. I will not be eating between meals. For 40 whole days! Argh. For Catholics, there will be no meat on Friday. (Someday I’ll post about how the Second Vatican Council’s instruction on Friday abstinence has been so badly taught.) On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we will abstain from meat and we will eat only two very small meals, rather than three ordinary sized ones. And it will do us good.

In our house, we’ll use Ash Wednesday evening to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and then our daily sacrifices. During supper together, we will light a candle during grace, to remind us of the season and the promise of light at its end. Each week of Lent I will place a different Icon at the center of the kitchen table, each one depicting a different part of the Life of Christ or his Passion – and on Easter that Icon will be Resurrection.

So…Mark asked a good question, and I’d love to read about what others are doing for Lent. What are you doing? What are your family traditions? :-)

About Elizabeth Scalia