Mary and Martha Moment: Celebrating Lent with Children

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When my almost-five-year-old son heard that Lent was coming, he exclaimed, “I remember Lent! I hate Lent!”

Surprised at his fervor, I fought to remain calm and detached myself and asked, “Oh? What do you remember about Lent that was so bad?”

“I don’t get desserts in Lent!” he fired back with an earthy groan.

No, we didn’t make our then-three-year-old sacrifice sweets last year. He probably had some fallout because his father and I didn’t eat desserts, but I clearly remember him making good use of the candy stash for himself. It’s intriguing to me that “no desserts” erroneously made such an impact on him.

It can be difficult to figure out how to involve young children in a penitential season like Lent without turning them off. A friend shared a list of great ideas to do just that last year. They are taken from the book Guiding Your Catholic Preschooler by Kathy Pierce and Lori Rowland. I utilized a few when Buddy Boy was three-almost-four and was pleased with the outcome, and I’m just as pleased to share her notes with you.

Participating in Lent with Young Children

1. Place a purple tablecloth on the table, with a crucifix and/or nails as the centerpiece
2. Let kids decorate purple crosses and hang them in windows
3. For Ash Wednesday, cut out pictures of kids from magazines (or use dolls) and let kids put crosses on their foreheads
4. Work with kids to create Stations of the Cross and post around the house; visit the Stations each Friday as a family
5. Food for the Poor:
– Have kids decorate a box labeled “For the Poor”
– Purchase 40 canned goods and store in pantry
– Each day of Lent, child chooses one can to place into the decorated box
– After Lent, kids help deliver the goods to Church or shelter
(You may want to check out this post on Canned Goods for Food Banks for a reminder of how to find nourishing non-perishables for your donations.)
6. Rice Bowl Pennies:
– Go around the house each day and count how many of one item is in the house that you are grateful for (ie: lights, books, beds, shoes, children)
– For each item on that day, the child may put that many pennies into the Rice Bowl
7. Bury the Alleluia:
– Create and decorate signs with “Gloria” and “Alleluia”
– Bury outside or hide inside
– Dig up or find on Easter morning
8. Sacrifice Cross
– Cut out a large purple cross and hang up in the house
– Each time a good deed or sacrifice is performed by the child during Lent,
they may put a sticker, or pasta painted purple, or some item on the cross
– Try to fill up the cross by Easter!
9. Lenten Calendar
– On large poster board, create a calendar of the 40 days of Lent
– Assign an intention to the seven days of the week (ie: Sundays we pray for an end to abortion, Mondays we pray for priests, Tuesdays we pray for the poor, etc.)
– If doing the Rice Bowl Pennies, on each day write your item to count
– Have a stack of purple crosses for child to stick on each day that passes
– Make Holy Week look different on the calendar
*Draw a green palm on Palm Sunday
*Draw feet on Holy Thursday
*Color in Good Friday in red and post a holy card or picture of the crucifix
*Draw or glue an Easter Lily on Easter Sunday

Although I always have a “Print Friendly” button at the bottom of each post, you can also download a FREE one-page printable version of this list.

Our Family’s Lent: Praying for Souls in Purgatory

This year, we’re going to do a decade of the Rosary each night for family prayers, and we have a Noah’s Ark that’s like an Advent calendar from Liturgical Training Publications that will give us a Scripture, story and prayer for each day.   I looked, but cannot find it for sale anywhere to recommend to you this year.

I’m also committed to praying for the souls in Purgatory. A holy mama at my Bible study reminded us this week that the souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves. Every one of them depends on the prayers of the community of saints – including us, the Church Militant on Earth! – to help purify them and get them to Heaven. That may not have been the most theologically correct sentence, but it’s striking. We have a great responsibility to our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in Christ.

Even greater is our responsibility to teach our children about praying for those in Purgatory. Just think:  who will be praying for you when, most likely, you are awaiting purification there? More importantly and less selfishly, who will pass the tradition on to your grandchildren, so that someone is praying for your children’s souls on their journey, as well as the rest of the Body of Christ? Start the habit young, and your children will accept this doctrine of the Church without having to reason through it.

What About Older Children?

Honestly, I would love some suggestions from more seasoned moms about the transitions in Lenten practices from preschool to high school. Here are my thoughts at this stage of my parenting:

  • Transitions is the key word. You make changes in how you explain Lent and what you expect of your children between three and fourteen, when they are supposed to practice their faith like an adult.
  • Focus on the penitence, the prayers, and not so much the sacrifices, unless you can explain how to sacrifice well, really well.
  • When I taught third grade, I absolutely expected them to do something for Lent. I called them “Lenten Promises” and explained the three options: sacrifice, prayer or good works. If Lent in middle elementary is a time simply to focus on improving one’s behavior or being more kind to siblings, so be it! It is a season set apart, for every age.

UPDATE:  I just found another fabulous list from my dear friend Sarah:  10 Ideas to Journey through Lent for Families

How are you sharing the season of Lent with your children?


Other Lenten posts:

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15 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    Thanks for your post, so many great ideas!

    This year we will be picking one special person to say a prayer for every evening before bed – and this will be a good reminder to pray for our dead relatives also – thanks!
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..When traveling…. =-.

  2. says

    Great ideas, especially since I have a three-almost-four-year-old. We will be doing a variation of the canned goods idea (buy canned goods each week and take them up to our church food pantry). We also will light a purple candle at dinner.

    I like the Stations of the Cross around the house idea – will work with Little One on that. Thanks!
    .-= Diana´s last blog ..It’s snowing! =-.

  3. Jessie says

    I appreciate your family’s desire to thoughtfully worship and serve God.

    I am Protestant and am unfamiliar with the idea of purgatory. Could you briefly explain how one goes to purgatory and how one leaves it.


    • Katie says

      My apologies for no sources, but here’s a super brief wrap-up:
      1. Our souls are simply not ready (most of us, at least) to see God face to face. He is too holy; we are too sinful.
      2. Even forgiven sin leaves its mark on us.
      3. We need to be purified.
      4. After death, if one has ALREADY MADE A CHOICE FOR CHRIST during life, most of us go to purgatory. Key idea: it’s not a place to get a second chance or give your “final answer”. You choose to follow God or not during your time on earth.
      5. While in Purgatory, you soul is cleansed. There are a lot of theories on what exactly this is like; no one knows for sure. I like two simple ideas:
      (a) A kid with sticky popsicle all over his face needs a good scrub-down w/ a washcloth. We’re the kid, sin is the popsicle, Purgatory is the washcloth. Sometimes it hurts to get scrubbed down.
      (b) In Purgatory, you see you own life as GOD sees you. Imagine how He feels about some of the sinful decisions we make every day.
      6. You get “out” when you’re ready to see God face-to-face. “Out” in quotes b/c it’s not really a place, just like Heaven and Hell aren’t places, but states of soul. We can pray for people in Purgatory just like we can pray for each other when we’re sick here on earth.
      Biblical references: Lazarus and the rich man – how could the rich man talk to Lazarus if he was in Hell? Hell is COMPLETE separation from God, so no way could you talk with people obviously in Heaven. Also in 2 Maccabees 12:38-46. (That’s one of the books Martin Luther had removed from the Bible. You can view it here: Sotry of praying for the dead in atonement for their sins.

      Well – that was more than I planned to write! I hope that’s a good, quick reference for anyone, though. Purgatory is vastly misunderstood, and a vast mystery even to those who “understand” what they can of it!

      Thank you for the respectful question,

        • says

          It’s true that most Protestants don’t believe in Purgatory. However, C. S. Lewis did believe in it, even though he was Anglican. It’s explained really well in The Great Divorce (a book I would heartily recommend).
          .-= Sheila´s last blog ..Frozen Yogurt =-.

          • Sarah W says

            Some scripture references from this article:

            “…Christ refers to the sinner who “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32), suggesting that one can be freed after death of the consequences of one’s sins. Similarly, Paul tells us that, when we are judged, each man’s work will be tried. And what happens if a righteous man’s work fails the test? “He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). Now this loss, this penalty, can’t refer to consignment to hell, since no one is saved there; and heaven can’t be meant, since there is no suffering (“fire”) there. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory alone explains this passage…”

            “…Then, of course, there is the Bible’s approval of prayers for the dead: “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (2 Macc. 12:43–45). Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and no one can help those in hell. That means some people must be in a third condition, at least temporarily…”

            “…”nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]” (Rev. 21:27). Anyone who has not been completely freed of sin and its effects is, to some extent, “unclean.” Through repentance he may have gained the grace needed to be worthy of heaven, which is to say, he has been forgiven and his soul is spiritually alive. But that’s not sufficient for gaining entrance into heaven. He needs to be cleansed completely…”


            • Katie says

              Thank you! I am telling you what , you should have your own blog. No, wait. Then I might lose your contributions here. 😉 Seriously, you rock. These are fabulous. Knew there were more Scripture references but didn’t have the time to seek them out.
              :) Katie

  4. Jennifer says

    I have ordered the Jesus Tree Kit from Leaflet Missal and that will be the primary focus for our Children’s Lent this year. With that, we read through the stories of Jesus’ life from the presentation in the Temple to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. I learned about it at the blog, Shower of Roses, and am so excited to get this family tradition started. It will repeat familiar stories year after year for the kids. They need to know those stories in their hearts.

    We have also signed up for Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure which is absolutely free. It’s been a a few years since I’ve been this excited about Lent!

    As for Purgatory, in response to the comment above, it is where the soul goes upon death for purification before entering Heaven. I would have to do some research to find the biblical support for the doctrine but it is there. Heaven is perfect and nothing is allowed in unless it is pure so we must be purified first. The purification is helped by the prayers of those on Earth as well as the Saints already in Heaven, especially the prayers of Mary, the Mother of God. I hope that helps.

  5. Kim says

    What a great list. I have 5 children, ages 8 to 1, and what I have planned is: a cross with paste-able flowers for good deeds/sacrifices (glue stick is tucked away in a little drawer beside the cross so the 1-yr-old doesn’t eat it – but I fully expect it to happen anyhow); we have a little devotional book from; and we’re doing Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure. We’ll do the Stations later on in the season. I tend to overload, and it drives my non-Catholic hubby a little crazy. :)

  6. says

    My mom did the Stations of the Cross with my younger siblings. I think she found some coloring pages of each station, and the kids got to color them and hang them around the house. They were actually upset when Lent was over and we took them down!
    .-= Sheila´s last blog ..Frozen Yogurt =-.

  7. Ashley Coleman says

    I was always under the impression that purgatory was only a Roman Catholic tradition, not biblical.

    2 Macc. Isn’t recognized as part of the canon as it is in the apocrypha. And, verses like this seem to contradict that delay between death and heaven for believers….Jesus said to the thief “today” you will be with me in paradise :

    39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,d saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

    Praying for truth to be revealed in all of our lives :)
    Lenten blessings from a Protestant follower of Jesus, mama of three. Btw, love your blog!

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