Catholic Activity: Lenten Scrapbook
Teaching our children to prepare for Lent spiritually. Points to consider: charity, purity of intentions, Biblical devotions, private prayers, scrapbooks, Sacrament of Penance, almsgiving and fasting.
Historically speaking, Lent developed from the strict discipline imposed upon the catechumens during the final stages of their Christian initiation. After three years of probation, they completed their preparation and received baptism at the Easter Vigil. It became customary for the faithful to join the catechumens in their pre-baptism fast and to attend their instructions as a refresher course. The clergy welcomed this opportunity of presenting anew fundamental Christian doctrine and ethics to all attending catechumen classes. In this way Lent became a corporate effort of the whole Church.
From Pope to humblest catechumen Christians lived Lent in a mortified spirit, with fervent and more frequent prayers than at other seasons—for all were seeking to be found genuine members of Christ’s Body at the Easter Vigil Communion. Such too should be our season of spiritual renewal.
Before Christ’s fast of forty days was associated with the season, Lent had been in existence as a time of preparing candidates for baptism, so the texture of the Lenten Masses indicates, and as a time for the renewal of faith.
The fast was strict. In addition to abstinence from food, those early Christians, admonished by preachers such as St. Leo the Great, were just as strictly urged to practice mutual forbearance and forgiveness; to intensify private prayer; to give alms generously; to attend Biblical and doctrinal instruction. These requirements still hold and we too must relate them to our fasting.
We can inculcate the virtues of forbearance and forgiveness in children during Lent, reminding them of the words of Blosius, a Benedictine mystic: "The best form of mortification is to accept with all our hearts, in spite of our repugnance, all that God sends or permits, good and evil, joy and suffering." Encourage children to take on their small sufferings and their joys in union with Jesus whose footsteps we try to follow more closely during Lent.
Charity. Perhaps there is a grandparent for the children to serve as they would serve Christ. Dom Marmion tells us: "Jesus identifies himself so much with us that, in us, he is sick and feeble, and even clad in our miseries. And when, in the strength of our faith, we come before God in the Name of Jesus, it is his Beloved Son whom he sees in us, poor, weak and miserable (such as he was in his passion)." Charles Peguy in God Speaks has him say:
Charity is that big, beautiful log fire
That you light in your hearth
So that my children the poor may come
and warm themselves Before it on winter evenings.
Purity of intentions. In explaining "give-ups" for Lent, children can be taught to do each action out of pure love of God. I explain that the more an act costs, the greater it is and the more meritorious. The greater, too, is the reward in Easter blessings and in "treasure laid up in heaven."
Biblical devotions, private prayers, scrapbooks. As St. Leo admonishes, we must also give Biblical and doctrinal instruction to our children. It is our duty to teach them. We will be judged accordingly. (Our Lord won’t ask whether I was the best den mother in town.)
A "scrapbook of Lent" makes a suitable project for little children (they may, of course, add to it during the year). Old calendars are a source of pictures—a call on grandmother, aunts or godmothers will usually produce a sufficient supply. Holy cards also do nicely, even though they are small. Catholic stores are another source—but it’s better to save the pennies for alms.
The first part of the Lenten scrapbook may include scenes from the parables and the Old Testament, illustrating the day’s missal readings; examples here would be Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, Jonah. Passion scenes from the Gospels could make up the last part of the scrapbook. A picture of Christ’s resurrection must not be overlooked.
Sacrament of penance. A sincere, thoughtful, earnest meeting with Christ in the sacrament of penance is the season’s finest penitential work, both for adults and children. In this encounter of penance "the judgment with which God the Father judged Christ on the Cross is being renewed then and there over one’s sins. By the sentence of judgment which our Blessed Lord took upon himself, a judgment of mercy is now being efficaciously applied" (Liturgy and Spirituality by Dom Gabriel Brasso, O.S.B.).
Almsgiving. Sacred writers insist that almsgiving is as good as penance for sin. Fasting, they observe, is better than prayer, but almsgiving is better than both, for almsgiving relieves the burden of sin.
Every Catholic should have a poor person, a poor child, or a poor family for whom he cares, whom he visits, talks to, comforts, and whom on occasion he gladdens with some special gift. Everyone can do this, even children and teenagers.
Aside from money dropped into poor boxes or children’s offerings to the Bishop’s Relief Fund, almsgiving as a Lenten mortification too often is not taken very seriously.
Children will find it easier to take a portion of Sunday dinner to that old little woman barely keeping body and soul together, to save for an Easter suit for a boy in a protectorate, to use Lenten sacrifice money to buy shoes for one child of a deserted mother of seven, than they find giving money to "the poor" nebulously. "For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin" (Tobias 12:9).
Those in need in your parish may not be widely known. But your parish priest or St. Vincent de Paul Society will gladly provide you with the names of families who need your help, either in your home parish, in a nearby parish, or through a more distant charitable program.
Almsgiving is part of the universal law of charity; everyone is bound to give according to his means. This with prayer and fasting constitutes the traditional basic and binding requirement of Lenten penance. There will be a strict equation between our present generosity and our Easter joy.
Fasting. Children need to have pointed out to them Jesus, their Brother, innocence itself, is fasting with them for forty days and forty nights. He is in our midst and travels Lent with us as our help and inspiration. The external things that a child sacrifices will depend upon his age and ability.
From toddler to teenager, there is food to be eaten though children are not fond of it, desserts to be omitted except on Sundays, and special treats to be gone without for the love of Jesus.
The poet T. A. Daly has these lines for grown-ups:
The fare in Lent should be austere No cakes and ale, no kraut and beer; No fatted goose with heavy wines, That Croesus fancies when he dines— They’re all taboo this time o’ year.
Activity Source: Holy Lent by Eileen O'Callaghan, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1975