Lenten Liturgical Living: Ash Wednesday
There is a special kind of joy that comes from actively living the Liturgical seasons within the home. Each year as we approach Lent, I like to look for reminders, resources, and ideas for this sacred season in our year. Join us as we share some of these ideas to help bring Lent to life in our homes and families.
Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular days on our liturgical calendar. On Ash Wednesday, we receive ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross (they may also be sprinkled atop the head), as the priest speaks the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (or a close translation of either). This ancient tradition dates back centuries and is rooted from the Old Testament. It reminds us of our own mortality, fragility, and need of the Lord’s grace and saving. Although it is not a holy day of obligation, it is a very important day in our liturgical year, as it marks the beginning of Lent. The Lenten season lasts 40 days, or 6 weeks, not including Sundays, ending on Holy Thursday as the first day in the Easter Triduum. It is a time of fasting, prayer, and contemplation as we prepare for Easter.
5 Ash Wednesday Traditions for the Family
- Go to Mass and get your ashes together - On Ash Wednesday, people of all ages may receive ashes. This means that even children who have not received their First Communion get to participate. I vividly remember what a big deal this was for me, how proud I felt to get and wear my ashes, and I have seen the same look in my own children’s eyes. Although ashes are a solemn reminder of our humanness, they are also a reminder that we are part of a great Catholic community.
- Explain the significance of Ash Wednesday - I grew up in a predominantly Catholic area, attended Catholic school, and didn’t go to very many places on Ash Wednesday, so we didn’t get many questions about our ashes. As I grew older, began my career in central downtown, I would receive my ashes at noon mass and return to work. I found myself facing odd looks and questions on this day. It wasn’t long before I realized this was an opportunity to introduce and open a conversation with others about our beautiful faith.
In a largely secular world, this a lesson that I like to remind my own children every year, and one that I want them to feel prepared for. Catechist Journey offers a great mock conversation to help with this. As an activity, we like to talk while the kids work on a drawing or craft, like this free printable from Catholic Inspired, or this free mini book from Kinder Craze for the younger kiddos. These activities add time for thought and reflection as we openly chat about our wonderful Catholic faith.
- Fasting and abstaining from meat – Ash Wednesday, like Good Friday, is a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Fasting means one regular meal and two small meals that combined do not equal one regular meal. Although the Church only requires fasting from those of us 18 to 59, and abstinence from those 14 and over, our family keep the meals this day simple and smaller for everyone in the family (for example, no desserts or extra snacking). Extra note: All Fridays in Lent are also days of abstinence, so we include the whole family in these meat-free days.
- Bury the Alleluia – Starting on Ash Wednesday the Alleluia is removed from Mass until the Easter Vigil, when it returns in full glory. Because the Alleluia is such a joyous and celebratory word, this intentional change in Lent is meant to reflect the solemn nature of the season. The tradition of literally burying the Alleluia is recorded as far back as the 15th century in France, where a funeral ceremony would be conducted that even included a coffin. A banner or sign of Alleluia was then buried in the parish garden where it remained until Easter. In our own homes, this custom can easily be simplified to a printout placed in a zip-top bag, like this one from Uniquely Catholic, or a customized, more sturdy option like this one from Catholic Icing. My kids love to make their own one-of-a-kind creations, so we might make our own banner that we can dig up on Easter and keep up in the house for the Easter as a joyous reminder of the season.
- Matchstick Cross Craft – The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are burned from the blessed palms from the previous Palm Sunday. A fun activity that links to the burned ashes and can be done as a family is this Matchstick Cross Project from Kinder Craze. This is a wonderful seasonal update to a home altar, or it may be hung on the wall as a Lenten reminder. As a note: an adult should prepare the matches for the activity beforehand.
Stay tuned for more ideas and activities in our Lenten Liturgical Living series!
May the Lord bless each of us and our families as we celebrate Ash Wednesday and enter into Lent.
Saint Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us.
Mary, our Good Mother, pray for us.