All about Lent

A forty day journey

Lent is a season of the Church Year that calls Christians to focus on repentance and personal devotion in light of the coming celebration of Easter. The forty-day period of Lent connects with many Scriptural events important in the history of salvation: the forty days of the flood, the forty years of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Moses’ forty days on Mount Sinai when he received the Law, and Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the desert.

The season of Lent is decidedly somber. In the Church’s worship, a penitential tone is expressed in various ways, both liturgically and visually:

  • Vestments are changed to purple, a color associated with mourning.
  • Ornate crosses and other adornments are veiled in the church and all floral decorations are removed. (Crucifixes are left uncovered.)
  • The shout of praise “Alleluia” is eliminated from all acts of worship.
  • The Eucharist begins with an acclamation that acknowledges our need for mercy. The Celebrant says, “Bless the Lord who forgiveth all our sins,” and the people respond, “His mercy endureth for ever.”
  • The Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”) is neither sung nor said, and the service music changes to more penitential settings.
  • The Decalogue (The Ten Commandments, see The Book of Common Prayer, page 317) is read or sung at the beginning of Sunday Eucharists.
  • The priest’s final blessing over the congregation is replaced with a solemn prayer focusing on the Lenten journey.


An invitation to a holy Lent

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, the day on which the faithful gather to receive ashes on their forehead as a sign of their repentance and mortality. In this service, the priest addresses the people, saying,

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. (BCP, 265)

We see in this invitation that there are six specific ways in which Christians are called to deepen their devotion in this season:

  1. By self-examination. This means setting aside time to intentionally reflect upon one’s thoughts and actions, acknowledging the ways in which we fall short of God’s goodness and love.
  2. By repentance. To repent means to have “a change of heart” and to “turn around” from actions and attitudes contrary to God’s will. This means honestly confessing our sins to God and receiving his forgiveness.
  3. By prayer. This calls us to take part in the Church’s corporate acts of worship as well as the setting aside of time for personal prayer.
  4. By fasting. To fast is to abstain from certain foods or all food for a period of time. The reasons for fasting are listed later in this handbook.
  5. By self-denial. Denying oneself in Lent means giving up certain luxuries, even legitimate pleasures, in order to focus oneself spiritually.
  6. By reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. In Lent, believers are especially called to read and reflect on Scripture in a daily way.

Lent puts into practice the words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (St. Matthew 16:24) Lent is a time for cultivating spiritual disciplines—whether giving something up or taking something on—that foster spiritual growth.

This growth happens through corporate activities at church as well as personal commitments at home. The purpose of this handbook is to help you and your family choose Lenten disciplines that will make these forty days a purposeful and meaningful season. The goal is that by the time Easter arrives, you will have grown in your knowledge and love of Christ and your identity in him.


Corporate activities in Lent

Ash Wednesday: Wednesday, February 26

Ash Wednesday takes its name from the Old Testament custom of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of repentance and an acknowledgement of our mortality. God said to Adam after the Fall, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) The priest uses these words on Ash Wednesday to remind us that “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) At the same time, ashes are imposed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, reminding us that “….the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)

The Ash Wednesday liturgies at St. John’s are scheduled as follows:

  • 6:30 am in the church; no music
  • 8:00 am with St. John’s Episcopal School
  • 7:00 pm in the church, with choir and a sung liturgy


Lenten Fridays: 6:30 pm on Fridays, beginning March 6

Friday has been a special day for Christians down through the ages. It’s the day Jesus offered his life on the cross, and, especially in Lent, it became the custom to commemorate Christ’s passion on Friday by walking the Stations of the Cross, an ancient devotion focusing on Jesus’ bearing the cross from the place he was condemned to Calvary.


Our Lenten Fridays start at 6:30 pm with dinner in the Parish Hall, cooked and served by a ministry team with a menu that all ages will enjoy. The cost is $5.00 per person and $10.00 for a family. At 7:30 pm, adults head to the church for the Stations of the Cross and children go to the undercroft for the evening’s program.


At 7:30 pm youth and adults observe the Stations of the Cross, listen to a meditation by a guest speaker, and end with sung Compline. Our speakers will each focus on one of the Stations of the cross, bringing to bear the meaning of Jesus’ suffering for us. This year’s speakers include:

  • March 6  Fr. Jonathan Melton, Associate Priest, Holy Trinity by the Lake, Rockwall
  • March 13  Dr. Jordan Hylden, Co-Vicar, St. Augustine, Dallas
  • March 20  Fr. Michael Mills, Rector, Good Shepherd, Dallas
  • March 27  Fr. Randy Melton, Rector, St. James, Kemp
  • April 3  Bp. James Stanton, VI Bishop of Dallas

Friday Nights for children

While adults and youth walk the Stations, children from kindergarten through 5th grade will meet in the Undercroft (church basement) at 7:30 pm for their own Lenten series on “The Giving Tree” with Biblical connections, activities, and crafts.


Sunday School in Lent: Classes begin at 9:15 am

Taking on a discipline of study is an excellent idea for Lent. On Sundays there are children’s classes for all ages. For adults, the following four classes are offered:

  • Women’s Bible Study in the Parish Hall Classrom
  • The Measure of a Man in the Parish Hall Conference Room
  • Faith of our Fathers in the Parish Hall
  • Living Faith Confirmation Class in the Chapel of Our Saviour

Children’s classes and details about all our Christian Education offerings are in the Christian Formation section of our website.


Personal disciplines in Lent


Lent is the perfect time to renew one’s commitment to prayer. Whether you choose the formal structure of Morning Prayer or more open-ended approaches like contemplative prayer, we encourage everyone to find some practice to commit to during Lent. If you need a place to start, open a Prayer Book to page 136 and see “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families.”


Consider a daily routine of reading Scripture, even if it is just for ten minutes a day. You could read the daily office readings (beginning on page 952 of the BCP; 2019 is Year One in the two year cycle). Or you could work your way through a book of the Bible, such as the Gospel of John. Put yourself into the shoes of those who first heard the Word of the Lord. What is Christ saying to you?

Fasting and Abstinence

Fasting is a spiritual discipline in which one refrains from eating some or all foods for a specific period of time. As a fast one might reduce portions at every meal, eliminate a daily meal, or refrain from eating altogether. The duration and details of a fast are always between God and the individual, perhaps with the input of a spiritual director. In the Prayer Book, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are appointed as Fasts for the whole Church. (bcp 17)

Fasting has played an important role in the lives of God’s people throughout history. References abound in the Old Testament: fasting for repentance (1 Kings 21:27–29; Joel 1:14–16; 2:12–16; Daniel 9:3–6); for guidance (Ezra 8:21–23); in trouble (Esther 4:15–17). In the New Testament, Jesus himself is our model as he fasted in the wilderness before taking on his public ministry and as he endured his Passion (his betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion) without food and drink. Jesus commended fasting to his disciples, saying, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (St. Matthew 6:16) His words presume that his disciples will fast, while also avoiding the showy self-righteousness of the hypocrites.

Reasons for fasting are many: a conscious uniting oneself to Christ’s self-denying life; humbling oneself before God and acknowledging one’s sins;  clearing the mind and body to focus on prayer. Fasting is rooted in the idea that there is a human need as real as physical nourishment: Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (St. Matthew 4:4)

Abstinence differs from fasting. Abstinence involves the elimination of a particular food, beverage, or activity throughout the entire season, often something of a “luxury” nature. Abstaining from meat, sweets, coffee, or alcohol are common Lenten practices. Some give up television, games, or social networking for the Forty Days. Others make a deliberate effort to abstain from negative attitudes such as fear, worry, or criticizing others.

Note, however, that fasting and abstinence are relaxed on Sundays during Lent. Sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday is always a celebration, a Feast, of Jesus’ Resurrection, and therefore Lenten disciplines are supposed to be put on hold. (According to the ancient reckoning of time, a day begins at sunset; thus, feasts and fasts are kept from sundown to sundown.)

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

Making one’s confession—the exercise of honestly facing one’s sins and speaking them aloud before a priest—is therapeutic. In the Anglican view, reconciliation with a priest is not something we “have to do” to be forgiven, but rather a healing experience we can receive because we are forgiven by Jesus who died for it all. The clergy of the parish can be contacted to hear confessions by appointment, and are also available in the chapel on every Saturday in Lent from 12:00–12:30 pm, on Good Friday from 1:00–2:00 pm and on  Holy Saturday from 12:15–1:00 pm.


A final word

We have described just a few personal and corporate ways in which you can grow into the love and likeness of Christ this Lent. In the end, the options are vast and they are between you and God alone. We offer the following planning guides (one for youth and one for adults) to assist you in getting the most out of Lent.

May Christ our crucified and risen Lord bless you richly as you journey with him to the cross, and finally to the empty tomb of Easter Morning!


A Lenten plan for children and youth

Things we do together

Check the items you want to commit to

  • Attend the Shrove Tuesday Supper
  • Attend the Ash Wednesday liturgy
  • Attend the Holy Eucharist each Sunday
  • Attend the Lenten Fridays Dinner and Devotions
  • Attend Sunday School each Sunday
  • Attend Youth Group on Thursday

Things I can do on my own

Check the items you want to commit to

  • Read from the Bible each day
  • Participate in Lenten devotions at home with my family
  • Pray each night before going to sleep, saying the Lord’s Prayer followed by my own personal prayers
  • Once a week, make a list of things I have done wrong and tell God I am sorry
  • Make my confession with a priest before Easter
  • In order to remind myself that I want Jesus to be more important than anything else in my life, I will give up this one item that is special to me _____________________ (sweets, soda, TV, Facebook, video games)
  • Once a day, I will do this special thing for someone in my family (set the table, take out the trash, load the dishwasher, read a book to sibling, etc.): __________________________________________________
  • Each day at school, I will try to be more friendly to ___________________
  • Other: _______________________________________________________


A Lenten plan for adults

Corporate Activities

  • Attend the Shrove Tuesday Supper
  • Attend the Ash Wednesday liturgy
  • Attend the Holy Eucharist each Sunday
  • Attend a weekday Eucharist on this day:_____________________________
  • Attend the Lenten Fridays Dinner and Devotions
  • Attend a Sunday Adult Education class

Personal Disciplines

Things to take on

  • Read Holy Scripture daily, according to this plan (e.g. 10 minutes each day, a chapter each day, etc.): ____________________________________________
  • Read a daily Lenten devotional
  • Have daily or weekly time of family devotions with my family, on these days and at these times: ___________________________________________
  • Read a book (on prayer, a Biblical devotional, a biography of a saint or
  • Christian figure, etc.) according to this schedule: _____________________
  • Engage in a daily time of self-examination and confession
  • Make use of the sacrament of Reconciliation before Easter
  • Keep a daily time of prayer from ______ to ______ (insert times)
  • Pray daily or weekly through the Parish Intercession list
  • Make an appointment for spiritual counsel with a priest
  • Get physical exercise, according to this schedule: _____________________
  • Take on a special project for a friend or neighbor
  • Other: _________________________________________________________

Things to give up

  • Abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Abstain from ___________________________________ (e.g. coffee, alcohol, meat, sweets, favorite foods) throughout Lent
  • Fast from all food on Ash Wednesday and/or Good Friday
  • Fast one day each week, on this day:  ____________________________________
  • Abstain from a regular amusement _____________________ (TV, games, social media, etc.) in order to free-up time for reading and prayer
  • Make a special effort to abstain from one or more of these negative activites or attitudes: gossip, fear, worry, judgment, anger, resentment, pessimism, or __________________________________________________________
  • Give alms to those in special need (note amount and cause): ________________________________________________________________________
  • Other: _________________________________________________________


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