Sunday, February 19, 2012
20 Pious Practices for Lent: What Should I Give Up for Lent?

Our Lord tells us, as recorded in Scripture, "Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). And St. John the Baptist announced the coming of the Savior with the ominous admonition, "Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:2).

With regard to prayer, St. Paul tells us to "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:17). And Our dear Lord advises us, "Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it you." (John 16:23). Also He said, "If you abide in me [i.e., "live in Me," or "stay in the state of grace"], and my words abide ["live"] in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you." (John 15:7). Further, Our Lord has said, "Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man." (Luke 21:36). And in the Book of Judith we read, "Know ye that the Lord will hear your prayers if you continue with perseverance in fastings and prayers in the sight of the Lord." (Judith 4:11).

Our obligation to do apostolic work, no matter who we are, is seen in the general admonition of St. John the Baptist, ". . .make straight the way of the Lord . . ." (In. 1:23; Is. 40:3). The Church has used this counsel in her Advent liturgy, so we know it applies to all—at least to the extent that all must pray and do penance for the success of the Church's missionary activity, help support it financially—and wherever possible take an active part in the conversion or reversion of those we know.

The primary purpose of Lent, of course, is to help us become truly holy—and we should work toward this goal during Lent by extra prayer, penance, good works, almsgiving, attendance at Mass and reception of the Sacraments (the chief sources of grace). When many Catholics neglect to practice Lent to the fullest, here are 20 ways to improve your Lent and to observe a Traditional Catholic Lent.


1. Abstain from Meat

We should all know that Catholics are required to abstain from all meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.  This is the minimum requirement and violation of this law is a mortal sin and, if you die without Confession and Contrition, for this sin your soul will be damned.

Yet, certainly, we can do more than the simple minimum practice for Lent.  Traditionally, Catholics would fast and partially abstain from meat all days of Lent, except for Fridays and Saturdays (which were full abstinence). By partial abstinence, a person can eat meat only at the major meal. Some Catholics will maintain the older practice of not only fasting but abstaining entirely from all meat on all 40 days of Lent, since even partial abstinence was a modern mitigation of the traditional fast that our forefathers in the Faith observed. See Fasting & Abstinence Rules for Lent.

This Lent resolve to abstain from meat all 40 days. You could even pick up the older custom of abstaining from all animal products (e.g. dairy, eggs, et cetera) and observing the strict Lenten abstinence of our ancestors. If you can not say no to meat or eggs or milk, how can you say no to sin?

2. Fasting

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, all Catholics are bound under pain of mortal sin to fast.  Those between 18 and 59 years of age are also bound to fast on these two days. Only one normal-sized meal and two smaller meals that do not equal the normal meal are allowed. Eating between meals, however, is prohibited although fruit juices and milk are allowed. This is the minimum under the current Code of Canon Law.

What should a pious Catholic do?   All days of Lent aside from Sundays were in times past observed with a strict fast. If you fast all of these days, you will have fasted the 40 Days of Lent, as Christ did in the desert. See Fasting & Abstinence Rules for Lent.

3. Limit (i.e. Remove) your Television During Lent

Even if you have not read Television: The Soul at Risk (and I do highly recommend it), television is by most accounts, an occasion of sin.  Limit your television to only a few hours a day for your entire family or - better yet - unplug it all together.  Television is a passive activity not only leading to obesity and passivity but allowing indecent speech and dress as well as suggestive dialogue and environments into our very homes.  Unplug it for Lent.  And think about keeping it unplugged afterward.

4. Daily Rosary

If you are not praying the daily Rosary, you should be. This was the central request of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1917, Our Lady told Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco: "Say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war." In an apparition on July 13, she requested devotion to her Immaculate Heart and Communions of reparation on the first Saturday of each month. In a September 13th apparition, the Blessed Mother stressed the importance of the daily Rosary, and in her final apparition, she said, "I am the Lady of the Rosary." Pray the Rosary daily and use Lent to start if you need to.

So pray the Rosary daily and use Lent to start if you need to.

5. Wear the Brown Scapular

If you were not properly invested in the Brown Scapular (or if you are uncertain), find a traditional Catholic priest to be properly enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular.  Recall that by the wearing of the Brown Scapular, Mary promises to pray for us at the hour of death. And more than that, she will intercede with God to obtain the graces we need to remain in the state of grace. And if we are in a state of mortal sin, she will intercede for us that sanctifying grace may come back into our soul before we die. Our Lady also promises that the Scapular will be “a safeguard in danger.”

While those who wear the Scapular are required to fast on Wednesdays and Saturdays in addition to the daily prayer of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, priests nearly always dispense the Faithful to instead simply pray the Rosary Daily.

If you lost your Brown Scapular, simply purchase one online.  The Brown Scapular does not have to be blessed before it is worn, unlike most Sacramentals. Consider buying one for a family member who does not regularly wear one.

6. Saturday Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary

If you don't already, set aside the First Saturday of this and next month as a time for special reparation and prayers to the Mother of God.  See Saturday Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary for more ideas on how to sanctify this day.

7. Go to an extra Mass or more each week of Lent.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest prayer there is. Sacrifice time and make the effort to attend the Traditional Latin Mass more often than just on Sundays.

8. Add a Holy Hour, once a week, twice a week, or each day. 

"If we really loved the good God, we should make it our joy and happiness to come and spend a few moments to adore Him, and ask Him for the grace of forgiveness; and we should regard those moments as the happiest of our lives" (St. John Vianney on Adoration of Jesus in the Most the Blessed Sacrament).

“Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us" (St. Alphonsus Liguori)

9. Pray for the Souls in Purgatory

We have an obligation to pray for our relatives and for anyone we may have harmed by our sins. A Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament after Mass is extremely efficacious for the Poor Souls and can lead to the gaining of a plenary indulgence—all other conditions for this being fulfilled.

We should pray fervently and frequently for the souls in Purgatory.  Start by adding the St. Gertrude Prayer to your daily prayers. Our Lord told St. Gertrude the Great that 1,000 souls would be released from Purgatory every time this is said. This prayer has now even been "extended to living sinners which would alleviate the indebtedness accrued to them during their lives."

Additionally, it should be widely promoted for the Faithful to ask the clergy to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the intention of freeing the souls in Purgatory.  Many souls are released from Purgatory by the graces from the Mass.  Furthermore, we should seek to gain Indulgences for the souls in Purgatory. One such way to do so is by visiting a cemetery and saying a prayer for the dead.

Lastly, the souls in Purgatory are greatly aided when we offer our Holy Communions for them.  Make it a practice to offer your Holy Communion at least once weekly for the souls in Purgatory.

10. Pray for those in Danger of Dying

Such prayers should be offered to Our Lady to apply as she desires, for she sees clearly who really needs the extra graces at any given time.   

11. Pray for anyone you may have had the misfortune to lead into sin. 

Not only should you make prayers of reparation, but you must seek out these souls and seek to repair the damage.  Lent is an opportune time for this. 

12. Pray & Work for the End of Abortion

We should not neglect to pray for an end to abortion which robs children of life, brings excommunication on all those involved in the murder of the child, and bars the innocent life from Baptism and the beatific vision. Work to end abortion. Support pro-life charities that are in line with Catholic values this Lent.

13. Go to Weekly Confession

Confession is the only means that our Lord instituted for the forgiveness of sins.  If you are out of the habit of going regularly, now is the opportune time. Encourage others who have been away for awhile to use this time to receive true forgiveness.

14. Make an Examination of Conscience at Lunch and before Sleep

As recommended in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, make your examination of conscience at lunch and then again before sleep.  At lunch, reflect on your words, thoughts, and deeds (or lack thereof) for each hour of the day up until then.  If you have sinned, make a sincere Act of Contrition.  Remember to confess these sins at your next Confession.  In the evening, again make an examination of conscience on each hour of the day starting with lunch until the present moment. This practice helps us notice trends in our life and helps us know what to confess.

15. Make Voluntary acts of Daily Penance

To Sr. Lucy of Fatima, Our Lord revealed that "The penance I now ask and require is that necessary for the fulfillment of My law and the performance of one's daily duties." 

16. Perform Good Works of Mercy
  • Increase your donation at Church.
  • Give to traditional monasteries and convents.
  • Support good traditional Catholic schools.
  • Support crisis pregnancy centers.
  • Support local soup kitchens.
  • Help those who are poor. 
17. Do Apostolic Work
18. Perform 15 minutes of Spiritual Reading Daily

Read from the Bible Daily or the Lives of the Saints.  The monks of the order of St. Benedict have long required spiritual reading by all of their members during Lent.  Spiritual reading helps us turn to the Lord and become deeper in our prayer life.  In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "Union with God consists in knowing God perfectly. For the better one is known, the more perfectly one is loved." There are many traditional Catholic books freely available online for reading.

19. Consecrate Your Life Each Day to God

Each day of Lent, pray and renew both your Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and your Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

20. Talk as Little as Possible

Vain speech is of little avail for eternal life.  During Lent, mirror the practices of the religious orders and speak only when necessary. As said in the Rule of St. Benedict, "Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk, because it is written: In a flood of words you will not avoid sin (Prov 10:19); and elsewhere, The tongue holds the key to life and death (Prov 18:21). Speaking and teaching are the master's task; the disciple is to be silent and listen"

BONUS: 21. Pray the Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross are often prayed on Fridays at Catholic Churches during Lent. Make it a resolution to go each Friday to the stations. If you can't attend in person, you can still pray the Stations at home. Pray the Stations for instance by listening to Fr Benedict Groeschel's Stations of the Cross said for the benefit of the Poor Souls. Also, keep in mind the necessary requirements for earning an indulgence for the Stations of the Cross.


As you can see none of these practices included "giving up" candy, chocolate, dessert, et cetera.  There is a modern misconception that Lent is about dieting or about "giving up" time wasters in order to increase productivity.  This is not further from the Truth.  For those of you out there who think Lent is about getting in shape and increasing efficiency, "you have received your rewards" (cf. Matthew 6:5) and the discipline of Lent has done little to help your immortal soul.

This Lent, use the two and a half week period of Septuagesima leading up to Lent to get a plan in place. What sacrifices will you make? What alms will you give? What fasting and abstinence will you undertake? What additional prayers will you say?

12 comment(s):

del_button February 19, 2012 at 9:17 PM
Geremia said...

Fr. Butler's Lives of the Saints is completely OCRed and free online.

del_button February 22, 2012 at 1:12 AM
Taplady101 said...

I have never ever heard of partial abstinance during the week during lent and I am a graduate of Steubenville and have a Theolgian brother who teaches at Thomas Aquinas college! Plus my dad while he was alive had a doctorate in Theology! Proof, please.

del_button February 22, 2012 at 10:42 AM
Anonymous said...

Taplady, this was done years ago before Vatican II...

del_button February 22, 2012 at 2:06 PM
Matthew said...

Ask anyone old enough to remember the rules of fasting in the early 60s or before. Partial abstinence has been around for centuries.

del_button March 4, 2014 at 10:37 AM
Lisa Boyle said...

This is a much needed post. I would love for you to come and share it at my Lenten linkup. God bless!

del_button March 7, 2014 at 11:35 PM
Anon said...

Everything you wrote sounds correct to the very letter of the law. This could have been very helpful to poorly catechized/ ignorant Catholics. Yet, I can't help but sense pride and a lack of love. Don't squelch your reader's desire for God by condemning them. Jesus was gentle and kind and He still taught people and he won their salvation. If you desire the good of your neighbor's soul instead of belonging to an elite club (think Pharisees) , pray before you write. God bless you! Repent!

del_button March 11, 2014 at 5:35 PM
Anonymous said...

Matthew, I am enjoying the Keep Love in Lent Blog Link-up 2014. Just found your site and honestly your 20 points touched my heart and I believe you did present them from a place of prayer. Many of those were items that my Mom and Dad shared with us as children and I value their steadfast love of the Lord. Not easy for sure. Thank you for sharing and sorry for sometimes comments are harsh, even if the person is trying to be helpful. Peggy

del_button February 18, 2015 at 9:36 AM
E. Nomlak said...

As I remember it before Vat. II, partial absence (from meat) was required on Monday and Wednesdays besides no meat at all on Friday.

del_button February 18, 2015 at 10:45 AM
Anonymous said...

I have posted on my blog evidence of the "partial abstinence" in the form of a card dating from the 50s.

del_button February 18, 2015 at 9:31 PM
Dymphna said...

Anon, what on earth are you going on about? What does Matthew need to repent of?

del_button February 19, 2016 at 8:57 AM
Anonymous said...

However, I find the category of "partial abstinence" to be unnecessarily semantically confusing for people. If one is allowed to take meat at the main meal on a fasting day...that is essentially the same as "no abstinence"...because when you fast you are only supposed to be taking the main meal anyway. The fact that the collations, which are already a concession to human weakness, can't have meat...should just be assumed, or included in the definition of collation, rather than creating this third category of abstinence which is really basically just non-abstinence for all intents and purposes. Excluding meat from just the collations, which you ideally wouldn't be taking anyway, hardly deserves its own name.

del_button February 26, 2023 at 8:44 AM
Lisa Marie said...

Whoa..."Sounds" is the key, lol. God bless the saints who were never afraid to admonish the faithful and poor sinners.

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