I don’t know about you, but to me it feels like it was just Christmas and now we will begin the season of Lent in just two weeks. Ash Wednesday is on February 18th this year. A fact about Ash Wednesday that I heard on the Catholic Channel yesterday…it’s not a holy day of obligation! This only means you do not have to attend Mass on that day. I guess it may be a good thing because more people will likely show up for a shorter service to receive ashes.
As I was thinking about what to write today, it came to me that the decorations of Christmas add such a feeling of being in a different time during the days between Thanksgiving and Epiphany. There is a constant reminder that something is happening. There is something to celebrate.
While Lent is traditionally a time of deprivation and sacrifice for most Catholics, the past couple of decades have seen a trend toward fulfilling the mission of the Church through acts of kindness and mercy. Instead of giving up chocolate, we give of ourselves at a soup kitchen or volunteer to read to underprivileged children. In this way we act as Christ so others can see Christ in us and we see Christ in them. We show them love.
This change in practice is fitting as Lent is the time to celebrate the most loving thing God ever did for us. He became one of us in Christ and allowed himself to be tortured and killed for our sins while in his human form. He felt the pain and the agony. He was not in some divinely protected state, it was horrific suffering. HE DIED FOR US. HE SUFFERED FOR US. For you. For me. For the people we love and the people we despise. For everyone because everyone was created by God.
And this is to be celebrated.
I encourage you to decorate your home for Lent. Not in any gaudy way. Leave the bunnies and eggs for Holy Week. Home altars are encouraged in our Catechism (2691). So consider designing an altar in your home. A place that honors what Christ did for you. Pick a place that will be seen frequently, mine is in my foyer. Use a Bible, holy cards, candles, statues, pictures, icons…whatever makes the connection for you.
Allow its creation to be a family project. Children can add their own special touches allowing them to be engaged in the love of Christ. Encourage the family to say a short prayer together at this altar. Make liturgical changes in your altar. At Lent, I add three iron nails and a small grapevine wreath to represent the crown of thorns. After Easter Vigil, they are removed and replaced with a cherished statue of the Risen Christ.
Your altar is a silent, but powerfully comforting place in your home. A reminder that our homes are where the Church lives day in and day out.
Enjoy this creative and prayerful process…and if you like, post a picture of your altar!