What To Give Up For Lent

The question creeps up on us and challenges all Christians to examine their lives and determine what to give up for Lent each year. We know that in living our life for Christ, we’re rewarded with His love, mercy, peace, and joy. Sometimes we need a little reminder of why we do what we do, why we live our lives as Christians. When deciding what to give up for Lent, we want to choose something that is truly a sacrifice and a challenge to our everyday lives, in order to help us recommit ourselves to the Lord. Lent is the time to renew our Christian efforts and find strength in our devotion through our Lenten sacrifices. Lent is not only a time of self-denial—of giving something up because “it’s that time of year”—but also a time of increased giving, prayer, and devotion.

During this and every Lenten season, we spiritually, physically, and mentally prepare ourselves for Easter through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We live in a world that does anything but encourage this type of lifestyle. Our society doesn’t ask us what we can give up to become better Christians; it asks us “what else do we need to satisfy our own desires?” It’s a challenge, to say the least, for anyone striving to live a holy life. Our everyday lives should reflect Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in His passion and death. This time of Lent allows us to recommit to our faith in God and to sacrifice more fully in exchange for this saving mystery. Let us embrace the crosses of sacrifice and prayer this Lent and give up the things of this world that distract us from living a life worthy of the call of Christ.

During this time, we’re asked: “What should I give up for Lent?” When we identity the things that take away from our ability to love Christ fully and authentically, we can give up these things so that we may be in communion with Him and all those we encounter.

Before we decide what to give up for Lent, it might be helpful to get a better understanding of what Lent really is, it’s history in our world and in our Church, and why it should matter in your everyday life. As we grow in the knowledge of Lent—both its history and current-day meaning—hopefully we can come to a more enlightened decision about what to give up for these forty days.

History of Lent

What He gave upLent, in some form or another, has been around since the beginning of Christianity. It wasn’t until the 4th century, however, that it slowly became formalized. By the end of that century, Lent became part of regular Roman Catholic practice. Originally, the practice of Lent was much stricter that it is today. Today we tend to focus on what we can give up, and yet still maintain our normally functioning lifestyles. Many early Christians gave up all animal products throughout the entire forty days of Lent, although some were allowed to eat fish. Generally, Sunday was the day penitents (those practicing Lenten sacrifices) could feast. On all other days, observers of Lent would eat only one meal per day in the late afternoon.

When Lent became formalized by the end of the 4th century, Church officials decided the Lenten fast should last forty days—a number with great Biblical significance. Many instances of preparation in the Bible took forty hours, days, or years. Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai with God when preparing the Ten Commandments. Elijah’s walk to Mount Horeb took forty days. When God flooded the Earth, Noah spent forty days and nights on the ark. For forty years, the Jews wandered the desert in search of the Promise Land following their exodus from Egypt. Most significantly, in regards to Lent itself, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness where he faced temptation by the devil in preparation for Jesus’ preaching ministry. It is also believed that Jesus lay in his tomb for forty hours before he rose.

Over time, Lenten practices have evolved, and the rules are fairly simple. The faithful fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, only having one meal and only small snacks throughout the day to keep up their strength. Meat is also abstained from on these days as well as all other Fridays during Lent.

With Lenten practices much more relaxed than they were originally, it’s easy to fall into the habit of picking something simple to give up for Lent or simply going through the motions without remembering what Lent is truly about. Lent is a time of preparation for the most important day in Christianity—the resurrection of Christ. This is why, when we choose what to give up for Lent, it’s important to stick with it. This Lenten season is meant to be a time of prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial.

Lenten Liturgical Practices and Symbols

This Lenten Season is a time not only to give up something as a sacrifice, but also to re-commit ourselves to the Lord and to open ourselves to the graces of the Sacraments. As a time of preparing for Baptism (for those entering the Church) and for the renewal of our baptismal promises, Lent begins with the recognition of our own mortality through the Ash Wednesday liturgy. By fasting on this day (and every Friday during Lent) and receiving the mark of the ashes, we are reminded to “prepare well for the day we die” by dying to sin in order to rise to new life with Christ.

Along with the renewal of baptismal promises, the faithful are encouraged to embrace the three traditional pillars of the Lenten season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. By observing these tenets, we submit ourselves to growing in grace as a form of penance and self-sacrifice. In hopes of growing closer to the Lord, we pray for the strength to uphold our commitment to give up certain things during this season, for our continued recognition of our baptismal promises, and for those entering the Church at Easter. Through our fasts—those things we have given up for Lent, as well as our abstinence from meat on Fridays—we develop self-control and gain solidarity with our fellow Christians in our hopes of pleasing the Lord. As we look outside of ourselves by doing works of charity, we seek to aid those in need of our assistance. In giving alms, we also come to a greater realization of the gifts God has given to us.

Throughout the Lenten season, we notice traditions of the liturgy, such as the inclusion of the color purple, as well as the omission of the “Alleluia.” The minimal decorations of the Church reflect the simplicity of the season and are a reminder of our solitude, prayer, and fasting. The purple liturgical vestments used and worn during Lent represent the penitence and humility we strive for during these forty days. The recitation of the “Alleluia” in the liturgy reflects the joyful praise of the Angels around the throne of God. We are also reminded of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. During Lent, we embark on a spiritual journey to prepare ourselves for the establishment of the Kingdom, not in celebration of the Kingdom already established. The Church omits the recitation of the “Alleluia” during Lent as a sign of our sinfulness. Our hope in reflecting on our sins and in performing acts of penance (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) is to once more gain the privilege of worshiping with the Angels around the throne of God.

Lenten Prayers and Devotionals

One of the most common practices of the Lenten season is the Stations of the Cross. Mentioned in our list of things one could add during Lent, these fourteen Stations offer a reflection on Christ’s journey to His passion and death. As Christ was given up for us on the cross, so, too, are we to give up ourselves for the sake of His paschal mystery. Through prayerfully meditating on these stations, we hope to realize our failings in light of Christ’s call to witness to His love on earth.

See the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website on the Stations of the Cross.

For presentations on the Lord’s passion and death, see The 4th Cup & Lamb of God.

For Lenten scriptural references, see Lent Scriptures.

Additional Lenten prayers are listed below:

“May this penitential season be for every Christian a time of authentic conversion and
intense knowledge of the mystery of Christ,
who came to fulfill every justice.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Message 2010