Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church

The Practice of Lenten Observances

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 2 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

The well-known and loved Catechism of the Catholic Church (and if you do not have one I urge you to buy one right away!) is an excellent resource for families. Rather than having a question-and-answer format, it is organized into four parts: The Profession of Faith, which examines the elements of our faith; The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, which describes and explains the sacraments; Life in Christ, which discusses man's vocation, the Ten Commandments, conscience, and morality; and Christian Prayer, which looks at the inestimable value of prayer. It has an answer for almost every "Mom, how come?" and "Dad, what does this mean?"

Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church

"Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"
at the
Catholic Company store.

Still, even though the Catechism can answer our questions, families are often left wondering how to implement what they have learned. It is a fairly common challenge: How do we interpret a generalized teaching in specific circumstances? How do we bring the theoretical to practical life? How do we simplify a complex concept without losing the essential idea?

This challenge is especially pressing in family life. Family life can be described as the day-to-day activity of civilizing our small barbarians and passing our faith on to them. Families need to make the habits, customs, and practices of Catholic life interesting and memorable to their small children without making them bland, boring, and meaninglessly shallow to the bigger ones (including ourselves). Fortunately this is not difficult. Actively living our faith in daily life is enough to teach it to our children.

Of course this still leaves us with the "Yes, but how?" question unanswered. Especially how to observe the penitential season of Lent in the family. We are not secluded religious; we cannot expect our children to live on one meal of bread and water, nor can we suddenly impose a regime of prayer six times a day.

The following Lenten practice ideas answer the "How to" chatlenge by presenting, first, the overall objective of a fast and, then, by suggesting some ways to live a forty-day period of prayer, penance, and spiritual exercise. Since the season of Lent is in preparation for a proper celebration of the feast of

Easter, daily life through Lent should reflect our desire to grow in understanding and gratitude for Christ's sacrifice. Actions and activities, both big and small, can help us do that.

There are several categories of Lenten observances: external and internal, fasts, acts, and prayers. It can get confusing.

What is a Corporal or External Fast?

A corporal (or external) fast means abstaining from (avoiding) certain foods, drinks, or entertainment, such as music, television, or parties. This type of fast can be very effective in bringing an individual or family's attention toward Christ, especially if the abstinence is complemented with a positive activity. Substitute reading out loud for television or writing letters for parties. In our secular, materialistic world, this kind of fast is not well understood and is considered unusual or even unhealthy. Even abstaining from meat during Lent is considered a bit odd, and going any farther than that is considered fanatical. (Even though fasting is considered completely acceptable for other less spiritual reasons, like losing weight. Go figure. [Pun intended.])

How to Perform a Corporal or External Fast

What is a Spiritual or Internal Fast

A spiritual (or internal) fast consists of abstinence from all evil, in other words, from sin. Saint John Chrysostom taught that the "value of fasting consists not so much in abstinence from food but rather in withdrawal from sinful practices". And Saint Basil the Great explains: "Turning away from all wickedness means keeping our tongue in check, restraining our anger, suppressing evil desires, and avoiding all gossip, lying, and swearing. To abstain from these things—herein lies the true value of [a] fast." (See also CCC 1430-33).

How to Perform a Spiritual or Internal Fast

What is a Spiritual Change

The development of virtues and habits of good works and prayer should be the main objective of any Lenten observance. The Fathers of the Church insisted that during Lent the faithful attend the Lenten church services and daily Mass.

Over the centuries since then Lenten observances, especially fasting, have undergone many changes. While it was once normal for most people to fast on bread and water during Lent, to reduce their hours of sleep, and to wear some form of penitential garment, today the observance of Lent is almost overlooked. Yet, the point of the exercise, the spiritual growth and change of life-style, is as important today as at any time in the history of the Church.

How to Develop Spiritual Change (Practice and Good Works)

When the general idea and purpose of a fast is presented and explained to children (of all ages) with clear and specific recommendations, they tend to embrace it enthusiastically.

If we can help them hold on to that enthusiasm for their faith practices through our support, encouragement, and example, we will learn and grow through Lent ourselves, as well.