Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

What Is Lent?

Lent is a time to answer the call to conversion. Catholics practice self discipline by abstaining from meat on Fridays and making other small sacrifices.  Giving alms and spending increased time in prayer are also traditional practices during this holy season. Catholics also are encouraged to go to reconciliation during Lent.

General ideas for Lent are listed below.

Also see the calendar page for ideas related to specific Sundays in Lent

For Holy Week see

Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is a time of penance. It is a time when we reflect on the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Catholics have three main practices during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

All Catholics, young and old, can participate in these practices. See information on each of these in the sections below, along with specific ideas on how to practice them. Watch the video below for an overview of these practices.

Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving Video

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Prayer

Prayer is an essential part of the Lenten experience. There is a saying that without prayer, fasting is just dieting. Without prayer, almsgiving is just social work. Prayer connects us with our loving God.

So during Lent, it is important to focus more time on prayer. This is a good time to develop a daily prayer habit if you don’t already have one. If you already have a prayer habit, consider adding to it. Or change it up if your routine has become stale and dry.

Prayer Ideas for Lent

Ways to Pray
Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)

Consider going to reconciliation as a family or with youth group or youth ministry. And then do something afterwards to celebrate this beautiful gift of grace from our Lord. Go out for pizza together or something similar. 

Attend Stations of the Cross

Stations of the Cross are a lovely Lenten tradition. It the devotion, we make the journey to Calvary with our Lord Jesus Christ, focusing on how he suffered for us and his interactions with those he met on the way

Pray By Putting Yourself in a Gospel Scene

St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that God gave us our imaginations and could use this gift to speak to us. One method of praying in the tradition called Ignatian Contemplation, by putting yourself in a gospel scene and to see…

Make a Gratitude List Every Day and Pray with It

Gratitude can be one of the most fruitful forms of prayer. When we specifically notice things to be grateful for, we become aware of and acknowledge God’s constant presence in our lives. Practicing gratitude daily is a practice which can change your whole attitude and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Say a Rosary

The rosary is one of the most misunderstood Catholic devotions. While some non-Catholics see it as worshiping Mary, it is in fact focused on Christ. The mysteries of the rosary are based on important events in the life of Christ

Learn a New Prayer

It is good to keep your prayer life fresh by trying a new type of prayer from time to time. Try doing some sitting and listening or something a little less structured like Lectio Divina. There might also be times when a traditional prayer brings comfort and inspiration.

Go to a Weekday Mass

During this holy season we are called to grow closer to our Lord by increasing and focusing our prayer life. What better way to do this than by attending a weekday Mass? Is your Monday through Friday routine too busy to do this? Try a Saturday morning Mass.

Read a Story from the Gospels

Get together with your family to read a gospel story this Lent. This is also a great activity for Sunday school or youth ministry. You can select one from the daily mass readings. But sometimes the daily gospel can be difficult to understand, especially for younger children. This article includes some other suggestion

Pray the Night Prayer from Liturgy of the Hours

The Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours  is a really peaceful way to end my day. Some people feel like the Liturgy of the Hours is too “old fashioned” to use with teens and children, but many can appreciate it.

Start a Prayer Journal

Lent is a time when we explore ways to deepen our prayer lives. A prayer journal is a good way to stay focused during prayer. This is an especially helpful practice for teens who are trying to develop a prayer routine.

Catholic Prayers

See a list of more prayers and prayer ideas on this site.

People Who Need Prayers
Pray for Somebody Who Has Hurt You

This is especially powerful if you are still harboring some resentment. Pray from your heart, but if you are having trouble getting started, try this prayer.

Pray for Our Holy Father

Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One person who often requests our prayers is our Holy Father, Pope Francis.  In fact, his very first Instagram post was simply captioned “Pray for me”. 

Pray for a Forgiving Heart

Sometimes we have truly been hurt by another person. And we can know in our head that we have to forgive, but our heart still aches and wants to lash out. In this case we need to pray for ourselves. This article includes a prayer to get you started.

Pray at Bedtime for Those Sleeping on the Street

Before you climb into your bed, pray for those who don’t have a bed. There are homeless in every city who sleep out in the elements. Say a bedtime prayer for those sleeping on the street.

Pray for More Vocations to the Priesthood

Why should we pray for more vocations to tIt is no secret that we need more priests in the Catholic Church. Giving your whole life to the service of the Church is counter-cultural and many young people do not even consider it. Or they do not think they are “worthy” of the priesthood. But God calls us all to a specific vocation. So we should pray that those being called to the priesthood will hear and answer that call.

Prayer Crafts and Activities
Make a Prayer Chain

A prayer chain puts our prayers in a tangible form. For children, this can be a good way to teach about the different types of prayer. 

Make a Prayer Table in Your Home

A prayer table is a small sacred space in your home or classroom.  It can be a place to gather for prayer as a group or for individual prayer.

Make a Prayer Rock

A prayer rock is a simple way to remember to pray each day. Parents can lay them on their children’s pillows so they remember to pray. Teens can keep them in their backpacks or lockers. Anyone can put them on a desk or carry a small one in a pocket or purse.

Make Pretzels and Say a Prayer

The pretzel is a symbol of prayer. The twist in the pretzel is meant to look like hands in prayer. And pretzels are made with simple ingredients – no sugar, butter, eggs, milk, etc. So make this recipe and then say the included prayer when you serve your fresh pretzels.

First Person Stations of the Cross

This mediation will take youth through the way of the cross. They will see each station as if they were there. The prayers are meant to relate to their own lives.

New Places to Pray
Go for a Quiet Walk

Consider going on a 30 minute walk as a Lenten activity. Turn off the music and walk in silence.  Let God speak to you. This is an especially powerful experience for teenagers, who have a lot of noise and distraction in their lives. 

Visit a Garden and Pray

Christ went to pray at the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a prayer of total surrender to the Father’s will.  So as a Lenten activity, go to a garden and think about the Garden of Gethsemane.

Go to a Prayer Labyrinth

A prayer labyrinth is a circle with a path in it which you walk while you pray. The purpose of the labyrinth is to facilitate prayer.  Several Catholic retreat centers in our area have prayer labyrinths on their grounds.

Pray by Doing Something
Pray Through Artwork

Some people pray by writing in a journal. Others are inspired by music. But some might be moved by the visual arts. So visit an art museum or spend some time drawing.

Pray through a Loving Action

A loving act of service can be a prayer. Try doing some loving actions this Lent. This can be powerful prayer, especially if the action is difficult for you.

Listen to Praise and Worship Songs While Doing Chores

Most people don’t enjoy cleaning the house. But it is an act of love for the family. And listing to praise and worship songs while doing chores can help turn this into a prayerful activity.

Fasting

Fasting helps us focus on God as the greatest importance in our lives. Other things we can do without. It unites us with our Lord Jesus who fasted in the desert for 40 days. Sometimes we are called to give up a food item, like candy or soda.

Sometimes we are called to give up something which is occupying our time, like video games or endless checking on social media. This is a good time to think about what is ruling your life. Where is your attention drawn? What is occupying your time and thoughts? Give that thing up.

And then when Lent is over, contemplate where your focus went when you no longer had that thing. Were you more able to focus on God and others? If so, try not to let the thing you gave up take over your life again. If you go back to it, keep it under control and in check.

Fasting and Abstinence Information for Catholics

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

USCCB

Some Ways to Fast During Lent

Go Beyond the Required Fasting
Fast on a Day Other Than Ash Wednesday or Good Friday

Catholics are required to limit what they eat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Adding another day of this type of fasting is a way of practicing an additional sacrifice during Lent. You can decide to fast one day per week.

Abstain from Meat on a Day in Addition to Friday

Fasting is one of the traditional Catholic Lenten practices. All Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent as a form of fasting. For personal fasting, you can choose to voluntarily abstain from meat one more day during the week.

Fast from a Second Helping

Some of us have such an abundance of food while others in this world have so little. This Lent, try fasting from a second helping. Start with a moderate first helping and then stop.

Fasting from Conveniences or Technology
Give Up Video Games for a Weekend

For many of us, video games have become a way to escape reality and blow off some steam. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, there is a tendency in our culture to spend a lot of time gaming.

Fast from Appliances

We have many modern conveniences which are not available to many in our world. As an act of solidarity with those living in poverty, try fasting from appliances. This is also often an environmentally friendly Lenten practice.

Fast from Your Cell Phone

Did you know there was a time before people had cell phones? It might seem impossible to fast from your cell phone, but you might discover you have more time to pay attention to other people and to the Lord.

Fast from Light

There is only one true light in our world: Jesus Christ. Try fasting from light for an hour. Turn off your lights and lamps. Resist the urge to pick up your phone. At most, light a single candle. Then spend some time talking to and listening to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

Fast from Emails and Texts

We have become so dependent on emails and texts to connect us with others. Try fasting from emailing and texting this Lent. When you receive an email or text, instead of replying in kind, call the person or speak to them face to face. The personal interaction is different and you might encounter Jesus there.

Fast from Something You Enjoy
Give Up Candy and Soda for a Week

Long term fasting during Lent can be difficult for young children. So instead of giving up something for all of Lent they can give up something different each week. Of course one of the most common things for young children to give up is sweets

Fast From Hitting the Snooze Button

If you like to sleep in, this might be the Lenten fasting practice for you. When your alarm goes off, don’t hit the snooze button. Instead, get up and pray!

Give Up a Favorite TV Program for a Week

Do you have a program you’ve started binge watching? Build your self control by putting down the remote control. Give up your favorite TV program for a week or more.

Fast from a Bad Attitude or Habit
Give Up Complaining

It is so easy to fall into the habit of complaining. To really not complain at all for even one day is more difficult than it sounds. So don’t complain about anything. At all. Really. Fast from complaining.

Fast from Criticizing

It is difficult to let go of the desire to criticize, either aloud criticism or criticism in your thoughts. Try to give it up this Lent.

Fast from Refusing Help

Fast from refusing help during Lent. If somebody asks for help, and you have the ability to help in some way, then take action. If you need a boost, read the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Fast from Comparing Yourself to Others

Are you looking for something challenging to do during Lent? Try to fast from comparing yourself to others. When we become more accepting of our own gifts and talents and less envious of what others can do, we can live in a new freedom.

Fast from Over-Scheduling

Sometimes it seems like we have so much to do that we can’t fit another 10 minutes in our schedule. Over scheduling can be a real problem. If we don’t have enough unscheduled time then we cannot live in the moment.

Fast from Gossip

Gossip impacts our relationships with each other and divides the Body of Christ. And it can easily become a bad habit and a false way to develop a feeling of “belonging”. So fast from it this Lent.

Fast from Worrying

We worry about so many things. We can worry about money or what others think about us or friendship or a particular situation. Try giving up worrying for Lent.

Have a Poor Man’s Meal for Dinner

Fasting is one of the traditional Lenten practices for Catholics. One way to fast is to have a poor man’s meal. Instead of a full dinner, have a simple bowl of soup and a few crackers. This method of fasting

Lent dice

Younger children may appreciate this approach. They choose a number of options at the beginning of Lent. Then they roll the dice each day to see which one they will do.

Fasting Cup

Fasting is one of the pillars of Lent. This is a family activity to determine what to fast from each day.

Almsgiving

The third Lenten practice is almsgiving. Almsgiving is the act of giving to the poor. Through almsgiving we share God’s love with others and we recognize that the gifts we have are not really our own. If the thing you are fasting from leaves a little extra money in your pocket, then give that money to a worthy charity which helps the poor. You can also donate goods.

If you really want to push yourself, give your time in direct service to another. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or visit a shut in. Acts of service such as these can also be considered almsgiving, especially if you do them with the intention of sharing your gifts. And who knows, you might receive a gift yourself. You might encounter Jesus in the faces of those you are serving.

Some Ways to Practice Almsgiving During Lent

Give Something to Those in Need
Give Something You Like to Charity

Giving away clothes or toys to a charity is a good way to practice almsgiving. But just giving away something you don’t want or use anymore is more like an act of closet cleaning than an act of sacrifice. Consider including at least one item you use frequently and enjoy. And don’t go out and replace it right away.

Give Away Some Clothes

Go through your closet and choose one thing to give away. Try it for a week or even every day through Lent. Give the items to a thrift store which supports a charity.

Buy Extra Food at the Grocery Store and Take It To a Pantry

You might be saving money this Lent by fasting from something. When you are at the store, spend that money on some extra cans of food. Then take the food to your local food pantry.

Research and Select a Charity to Support

Almsgiving is an important part of Lent. Often we will save money by fasting from something and give the money to charity. So spend some time researching charities and decide which one to support.

Give Your Time and Yourself
Do Yardwork for the Elderly in Your Neighborhood

Service projects are a type of almsgiving during Lent. One popular project with teens and younger children is yardwork for the elderly. There might be some leaves left from the fall. Or fallen branches from winter storms. Give of yourself by helping out.

Visit a Cemetery With Your Family

Visit a cemetery as a Lenten activity. Lent is a time to think about our own mortality and how Jesus brings us from death into life through His sacrifice on the cross. Visit a cemetery and pray for a deceased loved one or someone who has nobody to pray for them.

Visit an Elderly Relative or a Nursing Home

Visiting an elderly relative or friend can be a meaningful activity for children and teens during Lent. Or visit a nursing home. But it can also be uncomfortable for children, young and old, who are not used to visiting with senior citizens. They seem to have so little in common. But in fact, there are some easy ways to break the ice.

Pay Attention to Somebody You Normally Avoid

We all have people we try to avoid for one reason or another. This Lent, pick a person you would normally try to stay away from and pay some attention to him or her. Have a conversation.

Do Something Nice for the Environment

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis urges us to be better stewards of the Earth, our common home.  All Catholics are called to practice environmental justice. So do something nice for the environment.

Take a Meal to a Widowed Neighbor

Perhaps you have a neighbor who recently lost a a beloved husband or wife. Help feed body and soul by taking a meal. Recently widowed especially need to know that they are not alone.

Send a Card or Letter to a Home Bound

Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to be home-bound and totally dependent on others. Many will response with love and joy when we reach out to them. Send a greeting to a home-bound parishioner.

Make Something
Make Blessing Bags for the Homeless

One way to give to the less fortunate is to make blessing bags for the homeless. These care packages can be given to a local homeless shelter or outreach program to be distributed to their clients.

Make Hot Cross Buns and Share Them with Someone

Hot cross buns are traditionally served during Lent, particularly on Good Friday in some parts of the world.  The cross on them reminds us of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The spices used in them are reminders of the fragrant spices used during burial at the time. Make some and share them with someone experiencing a difficult time.

Other Ideas for Almsgiving
The Spiritual Works of Mercy

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are a way for us to accompany and encourage each other on our faith journey.  The Spiritual Works of Mercy are acts of charity through which we show our love for each other by .

Do One of the Corporal Works of Mercy

The gospels show us that Jesus reached out to those in need. His life is a model for how we should interact with others. One way to do this is through the Corporal Works of Mercy.

Make an Offering Box

Lent is a beautiful opportunity to offer ourselves to our Lord.  An offering box is a tangible way to make our offerings. It can be used for many different types of offerings.

Videos and Other Resources

Washed Away Prayer Service

This prayer service would be appropriate for any time during Lent, especially as a prayer service to accompany the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Lent and Triduum Cryptogram Puzzle

This printable cryptogram is a fun way to introduce youth to the vocabulary for Lent and Triduum. Each word is encrypted and definitions are given. Youth must consider the definition and then decrypt the word.

Make Jars with the Jelly Bean Prayer to Prepare for Easter

The Jelly Bean Prayer is a fun Easter prayer for your family or youth ministry. Make up some jars of jelly beans to give away with the prayer during the Octave of Easter. Put them on display for the rest of Lent to remember that we are walking this Lenten journey with the hope of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord on Easter.

Post a Religious Message to Social Media

Some people fast from social media during Lent. This can be a very effective way to regain wasted time. But if you are not fasting from social media, consider posting Christian messages on social media instead of posting about yourself.

Go to a Fish Fry

Yes. It’s a Catholic tradition. The fish fry. In our area local news stations even publicize them and have maps of them on their websites. Sure they are related to our practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays, but they are also about community.

Follow the Holy Father on Twitter

Did you know Pope Francis tweets almost every day on Twitter? Follow him for daily inspiration and then share his messages with others on your own social media outlets.

Videos

Four Reasons for Almsgiving Video

In this video, Fr. Mike Schmitz tells us why we should give alms. It is not to make us feel good about ourselves. But there are some important reasons why we should practice almsgiving.

  1. Jesus told us to
  2. Other people matter
  3. Out of gratitude
  4. To imitate Jesus

Have a plan to be generous. Don’t just leave it up to chance.

Catholics are not required to tithe. But we are expected to give according to our means. Everyone has something to offer for others.

Tips for Praying Video

In this video, Fr. Mike Schmitz offers some suggestions on how to pray. Prayer is not an option for Christians. Prayer requires putting in some effort.

  1. When. Decide when you are going to pray. Have a set time. But make it a time which is appropriate for prayer. And make it what you build your day around.
  2. Where. Pick a place where you will be comfortable and attentive. And it should be accessible to you.
  3. What or How. Choose one thing to do during prayer and stick with it for several weeks. After your time is up, decide if you should continue or try something different.
  4. Why. Prayer doesn’t just give us answers. The point of prayer is to build a relationship with God.

Four Reasons for Fasting Video

Why should Christians fast? In this video, Fr. Mike Schmitz explains what some good reasons for fasting.

We should not fast for God’s favor or attention. We already have that.

  1. For self mastery. If we cannot say no to something, then we are a slave to that thing. Jesus came to set us free.
  2. Obedience and discernment. We let the church tell us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the New Testament, the disciples fast while listening for the Holy Spirit.
  3. Worship. We sacrifice a legitimate pleasure to express our love for God.
  4. To be a co-redeemer. St. Paul tells us that our sufferings make up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. Jesus offers us a small particle of his cross so we can participate in the salvation of the world with Him.

Preparing for Lent Video

The point of Lent is get rid of something which is keeping us from Jesus and to take steps which will bring us closer to Jesus.The pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Pick one thing from each area to focus on during Lent. But choose things which will bring you closer to the Lord. Fr. Mike gives some creative ideas for these.

Broken (so that we could be made whole)

This video from LifeTeen shows how Jesus Christ is waiting for us in all of our messy sinfulness. Jesus was broken so that we could be made whole.

Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion and Death

What does the cross mean? In this video, Mark Hart describes the physical process of crucifixion. Jesus chose to be beaten, humiliated, and killed for us. When you wear that cross on your neck or make the sign of the cross, really think about what that means.

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