Lent is about to begin! To be ready for this day, why not plan a little in advance in order to help your kids have the full experience of this time of grace that the Church offers us.
Preparing for Ash Wednesday
To have a good start, let’s prepare ourselves to fully experience Ash Wednesday. It’s a day of penitence when we can manifest our desire to turn to God. It is vital, including for young children, that this day is marked by the spirit of penitence, so they realize this day is not like any other. Each one of us, depending on his age and capabilities, should join in this initiative of conversion by the whole Church. In particular, it is very advisable that all children participate in the Mass and receive ashes; this unusual rite always surprises and provokes questions.
Ashes are a very eloquent symbol. Children can clearly see that ashes are almost nothing, just a bit of dust. These ashes are here to remind us that without God we are nothing. Let us also explain to them, if need be, that the ashes are the result of combustion. Hence, it recalls that we wish to burn all of our sins in the fire of divine love.
On this day we are also bound by a double prescription of fasting (privation of food) and of abstinence (privation of flesh). Of course, this prescription does not apply to children, but it’s very important that they see their elders and parents fast and that they can participate in one manner or another.
A Lenten calendar to make your way to Easter
Through fasting, prayer, and alms, which help our transformation, Lent invites us to more fully open our heart to the love of God. We can offer our children the following comparison: we have three doors to open in order to allow God to come into us. These three doors are called Prayer, Penitence, and Charity. This comparison can help children to remember the three acts of Lent.
Together with our children we can create a Lenten calendar that allows them to visualize their path to Easter. Draw a path (with felt-tip pens, paint or crayons) on a large piece of paper or cardboard. At the top of the path, you can write the word “Easter” where the figure of a resurrected Christ stands. Each night, children can place a sticker on the path, gradually moving forward. To mark the stages, it would be advisable that the path be represented as a curvy line instead of a straight line: each turn representing a Lent Sunday, the week being represented by the segments of the path between two turns. We could also glue or draw a candle or a small cross for each Sunday, as well as a palm branch for Palm Sunday, a chalice and a wafer, a large cross and finally the figure of resurrected Christ for the appropriate day.
Prayer, penitence and charity
Fasting, prayer, and alms must become a daily experience during the period of Lent. In order to encourage children and help them persevere, you might suggest they write down their actions in a symbolic fashion — for example, placing stickers on a big cross (a little like a mosaic). You can also give them a piece of paper representing the path to Easter: this path should be divided in the same number of sections as there are days in the Lent, with indication of dates and Sundays marked in bold type, so that the children can find their way easily. Each section must include three small boxes: one for prayer, one for penitence, one for charity.
Hence, children are invited to daily think about what they will do (or at night what they did) to make progress in each of these three domains and if they wish, they can check off or color the corresponding boxes. Naturally, this sheet of paper is exclusively for personal and secret use. Writing down their actions must be used with prudence, so as not to divert the spirit of Lent, since this period of time is not a competition against the others or against oneself.
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