My name is Nicollette
and I’m a Recovering Episcopalian with a Liturgical Year addiction.
I come from what is best described as a High Church Anglo-Catholic background. If you know me personally you might understand just how much this part of my background (coupled with my Southern upbringing) affects who I am today.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this background as our Liturgical Year approached Lent. For our family this happens to be the first year both of my girls seem old enough to understand what we’re doing. In fact my eldest is fast approaching her First Holy Communion so I’ve striven extra hard to help her understand why we do what we do, which in turn has me thinking and reflecting on my past and how it affected me and my understanding of the Faith. I know this will eventually help me in passing on the Faith to my children, so it’s been worth the reflection.
Every year when Lent comes up it seems there is always interesting discussion in both Conservative and Traditional circles about practices, disciplines, fasting and abstinence, etc. There is always discrepancy and disagreement, and when I first came into the Church I was very surprised at the laxity people put into Lent. I guess as an Anglo-Catholic we just did things differently (ie. more strictly), but it was very odd to me that the rules were less strict in the actual Catholic Church than they had been in the “Catholic-lite” atmosphere in which I had been raised. I had never heard of the idea of “taking Sunday’s off” during Lent. Honestly I think anyone could give up anything for only six days… Where is the challenge in that? So I spent years watching various practices and eventually went on a research binge (which, as an input I am prone to do) in order to find out how these practices and rules surrounding the season of Lent evolved and whether there is really any reason to celebrate Lent as I always have. In the end I came to the conclusion that people will do what works for them – and that how they celebrate different seasons shouldn’t have me second-guessing myself and vise-versa. As long as I direct questions to my priest I’m happy with how I do things and I quit getting “judgy” about how other people did their things.
Probably the better blog article on the subject of Lent I’ve seen in a very long time was written just a few weeks ago at the start of Lent this year, and it brought together all the points of interest and debate I’m familiar with. While I thought it was a great article (Kendra’s such an awesome writer) I think there are many ways to address the points that are discussed. It gave me the idea to explain how our family does things, introducing what I now call (thanks to her!) our Lenten Family Culture – or…
How My Family Celebrates Lent
Maybe I should address my use of the terms “Celebrate” and “Lent”. Lent is kind of a bad word in our house (and for most people at our church)! And for good reason – it’s the fast before our main feast (Easter). But despite the disciplines and fasting that we willingly take on for this penitential season I always looked forward to Lent, even as a child. I’m finding my girls doing the same thing. As young as they are they have become willing gluttons of self-inflicted punishment. If giving up chocolate is to be considered punishment. Which, of course, it is.
How Catholic of them.
Thanks to my liturgical background our family celebrates the Catholic Year with a heavy English bent. Couple that with our traditional year and it means that we start prepping for Lent on Septuagesima, or 70 days before Easter, as this is officially the start of our penitential season. (If some think 40 days is too much, what would they think about 70??? LOL) It is here that the Traditional Mass begins to omit the Alleluia from the liturgy and we, as a family, stop praying the celebratory Regina Caeli and opt for the more somber and reflective Angelus. We bury the Alleluia on Septuagesima’s vigil and begin to officially make Lenten plans and start focusing on the fact that we have officially entered the penitential season.
Septuagesima marks the beginning of “a deepening sense of penance and somberness” that rises to a crescendo during Passiontide and which will “suddenly and joyously end at the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday when the Alleluia returns and Christ’s Body is restored and glorified.” *
And if that sounds like quite a ride, let me assure you that it is.
After Septuagesima comes Sexagesima and then Quinquagesima (literally 60 and 50).
The Monday before Ash Wednesday is Collop Monday, and it’s when the English Catholics traditionally gave up meat for Lent (because Catholic Lent used to be vegan, except for fish). Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday and if we can get to confession as a family we will do so in order to be shriven for the start of Lent. Then we go home and eat pancakes, which was the traditional dinner because it would use up the last of the eggs, butter and sugar – none of which was traditionally eaten for the whole of Lent.
Our family follows the Old Calendar and while it’s no longer required we still choose to follow the rules based in the 1962 calendar including the laws fasting and abstinence. So for Lent we don’t snack between meals, and that does include our young children beginning at an age where they show themselves capable (for us it was ages 5 and 6). We also don’t eat meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and we fully fast and abstain on those days and any other days marked as penance, such as Ember Days and Rogation Days; on all other days we only partially fast and abstain. Except on Sunday’s – because it’s not allowed. For us it hasn’t been so difficult because despite the austerity of the season it’s still marked with several First Class Feast days or personal feast days that we celebrate with pomp and circumstance (and meat!). Yay, St. Patrick’s Day!
Along with fasting and abstinence during Lent we each take on a personal discipline as well as a chosen Family Discipline. We don’t give up our disciplines on Sunday. For us, Sunday means we simply don’t fast – we can snack between meals and can have second helpings and there is typically no question of whether we are allowed to eat meat (cause we are!). Fasting, as defined by the Church, relates to food, not discipline, so our disciplines extend for the whole of the season of Lent, even though that does technically mean 46 days and not an even 40. If we gave up television, for example, it would mean we wouldn’t turn it on from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.
Goodbye Sunday sports… 😦 If you watch Sunday sports. Which we don’t, because we don’t actually have a tv… but you get the idea!
This is where we seem to diverge from the majority of people. Many people we know will lump their discipline into the “fasting” category somehow and that is their reasoning behind giving up Lent on Sundays, “because we can’t fast on Sunday”. But I’ve always been confused by that since the church clearly defines fasting as relating to food – not spiritual disciplines.
This year, to make Lent more confusing for ourselves, we discussed the Family Discipline and our seven year-old daughter requested that we give up meat (carne). So, since that is our discipline that means that even on Sunday we don’t get to eat meat. But at least this year it’s not the Orthodox (or…even the older Roman Catholic) version of a vegan Lent – which we did do a few years back.
*cough* It was our Melkite Liturgy influence which led us to try that out *cough*
And at least even that is still not the Black Fast… Yikes!
Anyway, back on subject! Since we begin to enter the reflective and penitential season seventy days before Easter we keep our Lenten disciplines simple to help make the time spent more bearable. We learned this over many years of…how shall I put this?…making huge mistakes. As new converts my husband and I had gone for the seriously austere and penitential disciplines (for example: homemade hair shirts, cold showers, and no electricity. In winter. In WYOMING! Gah!).
What can I say? We were young and full of fervor! Good thing we didn’t know what the Black Fast was, eh? I’m sure we would have attempted it…
Now we’ve definitely mellowed out and we walk the middle ground of both penance and reason. With our children we keep Lent very tame (by our standards). For us this works, and since getting in touch with reality our Lenten practices now lead to spiritual growth instead of pride. We’ve noticed that the more effort we put into this long season (even if our disciplines are less in number than others) the more joy we get out of the Easter season and it spills over into all things in our lives – which is the point.
I hope this gave you an interesting look into the (obviously sometimes suicidal) Lenten practices of one Traditional Catholic family. Our practices evolve and change as follow our needs and resources. We try to use the seasons of our Liturgical Year to teach the children how to see God in all things and how our year allows that to happen. (Yay, Catholics! ) I love seeing how others celebrate Lent, as well as any other season or holy day of the year so I thought this would be an opportunity to share what our family does. I hope you enjoy and find it helpful.
*My paraphrased explanation of Septuagesima originally taken from FE.