Today is the first day of Lent. Today we are reminded that we are ashes and to ashes we shall return one day. The ashes also remind us of the passage of time (it's Lent again) and the constant need for repentance.
Lent lasts for 40 days (not including Sundays). 40 days is very symbolic in Scripture. In Genesis the flood covers the Earth for 40 days. In Exodus Moses stayed with the Lord for 40 days. In Deuteronomy God directed His people in the desert for 40 years. And in Acts the risen Jesus appears to the disciples for 40 days. There are more, of course.
What I discovered when making Catechism lesson plans for Lent, is that the typical human pregnancy lasts 40 weeks! I had never considered this before, but it is a beautiful analogy. See, 40 seems to be supernaturally linked to a time of enduring, to a journey. It can be joyous when we reflect upon what amazing miracle happens at the end of the journey. And it can be painful and overwhelming, trying us to the ends of what we think we can bear. Both end in new life, when we joyfully pronounce that it was worth every second.
God's people spent 40 years wandering in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. These were critical times of formation, as is pregnancy, as can be the season of Lent. During Lent, we follow the path of Jesus, who journeyed through His death to His resurrection. During Lent, we repent and die to ourselves so that we, like Jesus, might rise again.
Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but it is an important entryway into the season of Lent, and a great physical reminder of what this season is about. I encourage you to go if you can. Most churches offer several services this day so that anyone can find a chance to go.
To begin the season with your kids, I love the idea of the sacrifice jelly beans at Catholic Mom, and also the felt grapevine sacrifice murel found there. There is a fantastic printable Lenten coloring calendar for kids at Catholic Icing. This is a great way to help introduce the season with the kids, and let them see the 40 days going by. Remember the Holy Heroes Advent Adventure? Well they are doing a Lenten Adventure now. It is free to sign up, and you will receive e-mail links to kids' Lenten videos, printable activities, and more three times each week during Lent.
We make "Alleluia" out of ABC blocks, put it into a box, and bury it, since we do not sing the Alleluia at Mass during Lent. It is very plain when we bury it. When we dig it up after Lent is over, it is transformed - colorful and glittery!
And we listen to the Lent song on our Dogma Dogs CD. It is sooo cute & catchy! Little Bill loves it. Lyrics such as, "Lent, Lent, time to repent. Our wills they get bent by what we do and fail to do, but ask for mercy, He'll give it to you." Here is Little Bill totally rocking out to this song in 2009:
Have a blessed Ash Wednesday,
P.S. As an aside, no I did not come up with a fabulous king cake recipe for yet another year. We enjoyed a delicious - though not authentic - one from our Kroger grocery store. Maybe next year.
Also the beautiful graphic at the top of this post is graciously shared with all from Pick & Print Gallery. Isn't it lovely?