Lenten Traditions

“Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencton – meaning “spring” or “lengthening” from the time of year when the days grow long. The season begins on Ash Wednesday (February 18, 2015) and ends with the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday through Easter Day), covering 40 days (excluding Sundays which are little feasts of the Resurrection). Some believe that the word “Lent” may derive from the Latin lentare, which means “to bend.” This understanding reinforces a sense of Lent as a time of preparation for personal and collective transformation. Having nurtured ourselves through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, Lent becomes the time to look truthfully at ourselves and make changes. In the early church, Lent was the time of preparation for the Easter, Pascha (Christian Passover) baptism of converts to the faith. Persons were to receive the sacrament of “new birth” following a period of fasting, penitence and preparation. Just as the children of Israel had been delivered from the bondage of Egyptian slavery, we are delivered from the bondage of sin. The bible readings appointed for the Sundays in Lent continue to offer us a short course on the meaning of baptism – our sacrament of initiation into the Body of Christ.

Traditions of Lent:

Liturgical Colors:

  • Purple is used in vestments and altar hangings for penitence and royalty.
  • Rough linen or unbleached fabric can also reflect the mood of Old Testament mourning (wearing sackcloth)


  • Ashes (prepared from the previous year’s palms symbolize our mortality and sorrow for our sins. Job (Job 42:6) and the king of Ninevah (Jonah 3:6) put ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance, while also wearing sackcloth
  • Responses & Music follows a more contemplative stance. Joyful canticles, Alleluias and the Gloria in excelsis are omitted from worship. Altar flowers may also be absent.

Notable days and practices:

  • Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) was the day all households were to use up all milk, eggs and fat to prepare for the strict fasting of Lent. These ingredients were made into pancakes, a meal which came to symbolize preparation for the discipline of Lent, from the English tradition. “Shrove” comes from the verb “to shrive” (to confess and receive absolution) prior to the start of the Lenten season. Other names for this day include Carnival (farewell to meat) and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday of the French tradition).
  • Ash Wednesday takes its name from the ashes used as early as the 3rd century to publicly signify contrition. With roots in the ancient Jewish festival of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it is a day to honestly face one’s self – to be one with God, our neighbor, all of creation and ourselves. It began to be observed in the 7th century as a time for disciplining penitents. By the 11th century, Christians had come to recognize the universal need for self-examination and repentance. Believers began to be blessed with ashes on their foreheads as they began their Lenten fast as a reminder that we are dust, and to dust we return.
  • Retreats are a common practice during Lent; a time set aside for teaching and learning, fasting and self-denial, meditation, quiet and spiritual growth in our relationship with God.
  • Study and Preparation is also customary for Christians and many churches plan special programs in which prayer practices, Bible study or service to others are offered. It is a time for those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil (or to be Confirmed in the spring) to study and reflect on the Christian faith and their relationship to Jesus Christ.

Copyright ©2013. All rights reserved. Sharon Ely Pearson ~ Church Publishing Incorporated 2

Making Pretzels

The pretzel has been used during Lent for over 1,500 years. It is thought that originally pretzels were made by monks to resemble arms crossed in prayer. These breads were called “little arms.” This can have deep spiritual meaning for us during Lent. Since basically only flour and water are used, pretzels can remind us of fasting. Ingredients: 1 cake yeast, 1 ½ cup warm water, 1 tsp. salt, 1 T. sugar, 4 cups flour Directions: Dissolve yeast in warm water and sugar for about 5 minutes. Mix the flour and salt and add yeast mixture. Knead well (7-8 minutes), adding more flour if necessary to form firm dough. Let rise, covered, in a greased bowl until double. Preheat oven to 475°F. Divide dough into 32 equal parts. Roll each part into a snakelike strand, form strand into pretzel shape, and place on greased baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse salt if desired. Bake for about 10 minutes or until done.

Pretzel Prayer

Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless these little breads. Each time we eat them may we be reminded of the special season we are in and that through prayer we will become better people to each other. Let us not forget those who are in need of our prayers daily. Keep your loving arms around us, O Father, to protect us always. Amen.
~ Church Publishing

Books for Lent

  • “The Easter Story” by Brian Wildsmith (2000: Eerdmans – paperback to be released Feb. 2008) is a beautifully illustrated storybook about the ministry and passion of Jesus for ages 4-8.
  • “The Story of the Cross” by Mary Joslin (2002: Loyola Press) is an illustrated Stations of the Cross for children that draw on accounts from the four Gospels, including stories of Jesus’ teachings and ministry. Each station includes an illustration, brief explanation and prayer. For ages 3-8.
  • “Give Us This Day: Lenten Reflections on Baking Bread and Discipleship” (2007: Seabury Books) Using bread as a metaphor for the spiritual journey, the book includes recipes for families, church school classes and youth groups as well as individuals that connects baking, food and social justice along with prayer and reflections. Meditations for every day in Lent – from Shrove Tuesday pancakes to Easter Challah Bread.
  • “The Story of the Cross” by Mary Joslin (2002:Loyola Press) How do we teach children the way of the cross? A great starting point is introducing them to the Stations of the Cross, and this book will help you do so in a child-appropriate way. The Story of the Cross gently tells the story of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
  • “The Easter Experience” (Rachel Heathfield, 2002:Bible Reading Fellowship)
    A book for children ages 5-7 to read on their own or with a friend or family member, to “grow with God through Jesus’ Easter story”/ Questions and activities are suggested for 5 weeks that explore sin, forgiveness, betrayal, death and resurrection, showing we never need to be separated from God.
  • “Easter Make and Do” (Gillian Chapman, 2004: AD Publishing Ltd.) One of a 6 book series of craft ideas by Gillian Chapman, this volume includes easy step-by-step instructions to make models which will build a tableau of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal and trial, the crucifixion and resurrection. The activity for “Breakfast on the Beach” involves making a wall hanging using the symbols of fish. Each craft activity follows a scripture reading.