Fostering Prayer in Lent

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

I know no one wants to think about it, but it’s almost here, again. As I write this post on the final day of January, an entire month (albeit the shortest one) and a short week are all that’s between me and Ash Wednesday. There is no shortage of articles online about what people can do for lent.

Parishes usually promote a few digital options for parishioners to do on their own. Dynamic Catholic is hosting their annual “Don’t give up chocolate for lent, have your Best Lent Ever.” The Engage program from Word on Fire has an Lenten Program this year too. Each of these have information for you to share on social media, items for the bulletin, and more. One is free for all while the other has a more intensive email component that the parish invests in.

If your parish is considering a physical book, there are lots of beautiful options. Bishop Barron has a new Lenten Devotional coming out. There’s also the Little Black Book and even one for Children. Both The Word Among Us and Magnificat have beautiful options rooted in the daily readings.

For personal (or small group) study, there are also a few. Like this one (my personal Lenten plan) from Blessed Is She written by Jenna. I also love seeing this one each year from Meg over at Held By His Pierced Hands. (I’ve never undertaken that one myself, but that’s just because I’m not ready for boot camp!) She also has a list of 100 things to do for lent, and so does Kendra with her 66 out of the (chocolate) box ideas. Those Catholic Men promote the Exodus 90 program (although Lent is only 1/2 of the 90 days).

All of the above options are personal devotions or practices we can do for lent, each person discerning what is most appropriate for them. I’m considering the same fast as last year because it was so effective: drinking only water (no tea, no milk, no smoothies, no wine)! All of our penances are only effective if they are rooted in prayer and re-focusing our spiritual life to the Lord. I recently read this book by Emily Stimpson Chapman that talks a lot about fasting if some people are coming to the parish asking why it matters.

So how can the parish help foster this spirit of prayer in the midst of personal fasting? I’ve got some ideas (don’t I always…)! I hope they are simple enough to be executed without much effort, but worthwhile enough to be fruitful.

  • Parish-Wide Holy Hour: I’ve written about this before, but it’s as simple as exposing the Blessed Sacrament, sitting there for an hour praying, and then reposing the Blessed Sacrament. It can be Father or a Deacon or even a lay person, if necessary.
  • Additional times for Adoration: An easy time to add in Adoration is between Masses. Father is already there for the first Mass of the day and will return for the next one. Be sure to include times for working people, so don’t only add day-time hours!
  • 40 Hours Devotion: Recently my parish had its Annual 40 Hours in preparation for our Feast Day. There was someone in the parish all hours of the day and night from Saturday evening through Monday evening.
  • Praying the Rosary before Mass: A simple addition to a weekend Mass schedule or daily time offers the opportunity for your parishioners to pray together and embraces this request from Our Lady of Fatima.
  • Praying the St. Michael Prayer after Mass: This devotion first began in 1886, the intention was adapted in 1929, and was suppressed in 1964. However, it has made a resurgence in the past six months or so in the midst of the abuse crisis.
  • Additional times for Confession: Most parishes have a penance service during Lent to give parishioners an opportunity for fulfilling one of the Precepts of the Church. What if you had additional times throughout the season? They could be during the new Holy Hour you’re adding, or before or after a daily Mass or even a Sunday Mass.

Whatever you do, the pastor, staff, and ministry leaders should be an example. This isn’t intended for them to ‘show off all of their prayer’ but instead an opportunity to invite the community into something bigger. Prayer is not just ‘part of our relationship with the Lord, it is our relationship with Him. If we want our parishes to transform (and I know we do), then we must be rooted in prayer. Invite the Holy Spirit into your parish transformation and you won’t be able to keep up with all the good the Lord is doing!

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