Catholic schools share their Lenten traditions

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In our parishes and homes, we partake in Lenten traditions that help us prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. The Catholic Anchor asked our Catholic schools to share their Lenten traditions they foster to help students at all grade levels observe this liturgical season.

St. Mary’s

On Ash Wednesday, students gather with community members to participate in Mass and receive ashes. For some, it is the first time they have received ashes. Fr. Frank explains to students the symbolism of the ashes and the words said as they are placed on each person’s forehead. The sound of the song “Ashes” fills the church as the congregation reverently walks to accept their cross. The tone of the day continues to lunch. Students are all participating in “Poor Lunch,” which has been a tradition at St. Mary’s for more than fifteen years. All students are asked to share a simple meal of soup and a roll to mark the beginning of this period of living a simpler life. Throughout the remainder of Lent, soup or meals with fish are served on Fridays.

Within classrooms, each teacher approaches the Lenten season differently. This year, each K-6 teacher was gifted a reflection book, A is for Ashes and a children’s calendar, with activities, prayers, or Scripture readings each day. Students in sixth through eighth grades received a teen version of these items. Throughout this period of forty days, teachers include other activities as well. In the past, students have completed “Stations of the Cross” eggs, in which students use plastic eggs filled with a specific symbol as a reminder for each of the moments of Jesus’ passion and death. Alternatively, students will use scripture to write and reflect on The Way of the Cross.

Additionally, students reflect on their Lenten promises and write them on their Rice Bowls, provided by Catholic Relief Services. For some students, their Lenten commitments are written on clovers. Clovers were used by St. Patrick to show how the Holy Trinity is one God, three distinct persons – the same way the clover has three separate leaves but is still the same plant. On their clovers, students focus their thoughts on the Three Pillars of Lent: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Each leaf is dedicated to one of these areas. After reflection and class discussion, students write their Lenten commitments for each of the three pillars.

Lent at St. Mary’s concludes with an early release on Holy Thursday. All students, regardless of faith, are invited to join in on activities throughout the Easter Triduum. To participate in various services, activities, and celebrations, students do not have school on Good Friday or Easter Monday. Students will return to school after Easter celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection over death.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

The tradition for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton School during Lent is that we start with a Fat Tuesday Prayer Service led by our 5th graders and a pancake breakfast put on by our Parent Volunteer Organization (PVO). The next day we have an all-school Mass to celebrate Ash Wednesday. As a school, we do weekly Stations of the Cross lead by our 3rd through 6th graders, exchange names so we can pray for each other, and all the classes dedicate 15 minutes a week to Adoration during Lent. Our Kindergarten class does a community service project which includes the students filling an Easter basket for a child, and the baskets are delivered to the AWAIC shelter. Our 5th-grade class makes a diorama of the Last Supper and Triduum tri-folds. Our 2nd through 6th graders participate in reconciliation before Easter with Father Scott Medlock and Father Robert Whitney.

Our Lady of the Valley

Catholic school students celebrate Lenten traditions in a variety of ways at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School. These traditions are evident in the classroom and with entire student body events. The diversity of traditions is the common link in our faith that binds us together as Catholics.

OLV students and their families have hosted the “soup and stations” event and meal for the parish for many years. The students prepare the parish tables after school with a purple and lavender table covering, set the table and provide centerpieces depicting a Lenten theme constructed by primary age students.

A dozen OLV families bring their favorite meatless soup to share with others following the student-led Stations of the Cross. Fourteen OLV lectors read the Stations of the Cross while the remainder of the students journey in a procession led by OLV altar servers while an OLV cantor sings a solemn song. Mrs. Lund’s 2nd-grade class also provides small bags of mini pretzels for the tables, which also include the history of the pretzel and a prayer. The story of the praying hands, as was originally designed by the monks in a monastery long ago, becomes a conversational topic at the tables during the meal.

OLV students are also among the individuals that have their feet washed at the Maundy Mass. Each Easter Vigil, OLV is also present to witness the baptism of many of their classmates. Again this year, OLV students will welcome an OLV family of four into the Catholic faith.

For the Lenten season, students in preschool through first grade come together every Friday afternoon to pray for each station to make Stations of the Cross engaging to such a young group of kids. Each one of the 14 eggs contains one foam heart and one symbol for that station, such as a cross for the first station, a band-aid for each time he falls, Jesus’ clothes for station 10, a nail for 11, and so on. The hearts have the name of the station. First graders and kindergarteners take turns in opening the egg, calling the station and showing the symbol. Fourteen candles are also lit and the preschoolers take turns in blowing out a candle after each station. We then genuflect and pray the station.

2nd graders in Mrs. Lund’s class will make a unique Easter basket that depicts the events of Holy Week on each side of the bag. Students explain the events of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter to their families as depicted in their bag. Their “Holy Week” bag will also include “The Jelly Bean Bag,” which explains the colors of each jellybean as it brings an awareness of the Resurrection. 2nd graders will also make white handprint Easter lily cards for their parents. The legend of the lily will be rehearsed and presented in a choral reading format to other students, which clarifies why the lily has never lifted its head in pride again. Finally, 2nd graders will put the twelve Resurrection Eggs in their Holy Week bag with items that depict the crucifixion of our Lord with things such as a cracker, coins, purple cloth, thorns, rope, cross, nail, sign, vinegar sponge, cloves and rock. Biblical verses will be included with each item in the egg. These varied activities will help children celebrate and understand the Lenten season with a more profound knowledge of our Catholic Church.

In 3rd & 4th every year we have a variety of activities to learn about Lent. We start by learning about Shrovetide and the origins of Mardi Gras. We learned how “Fat Tuesday” references Epiphany in the use of purple, green, and gold, which represent the Kings’ presents. Every year we use the Purple Books’ daily reflections and activities. This year we added a “Lent tracker” to help the students remember to not only give something up for Lent but also to pray, to fast, and to help.

In the 5th and 6th grades, we discuss class Lenten goals that we practice each week. They can be anything from saying extra prayers, helping a person in need, or focusing on a particular virtue to perfect. We also go into the chapel at the end of the day and sing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. This prayer gifted to us by St. Faustina assists the students’ understanding of the Paschal Mystery, and what it means to atone for our sins.

Students are instrumental in the creation, planning, organization, and implementation of our Lenten observance each year. The 7/8-grade class creates personal and class goals for Lent. Last year, we created a class prayer calendar. Using this calendar, we learned about different prayer traditions, the history of some of the oldest prayers of the Church, and took time to pray with and for each other.

This year, we decided to divide the 24 days of Lent we will be in school in ways we can pray, fast, and give. We brainstormed these ideas as a class and pull one of our observances each morning to do for that day. Students have a vital role in our daily observances. For example, Rosie and Sara led us in the Midday Prayers of the Divine Office. Branson is organizing our class food drive for the Food Pantry that we will do throughout the entire season of Lent. Our hope is as we go through this Lenten season, we will grow in faith and virtues in preparation for our joyous celebration during the Easter Season.

Lumen Christi

Like the beauty of a richly colored and multifaceted tapestry, Lumen Christi’s Lenten path is woven together with strands of reflection, prayer, service, penance and sacrifice. After morning prayers, many of our Advisory classes set the tone of each day with “Best Lent Ever” reflections from Dynamic Catholic (www.dynamiccatholic.com) followed by student discussion.

Within Theology classes, students discuss and support one another in Lenten practices and projects. Our 8th-grade students are studying and discussing temptation, grace and spiritual strength as they create personal temptation stories fashioned after Christ’s temptation in the desert. Our 9th-grade Theology class spends 15 minutes each week in spiritual reading. Other classes are praying novenas, “cleaning up their acts,” and keeping Lenten prayer/scripture journals. As a school community, our students travel through the last steps of Christ each Friday as we pray the Stations of the Cross. Each interactive station is led by a student using imagery and prayer to give more in-depth insight and reflection. The whole school enjoys time together during Friday soup and bread lunches provided by our teachers, administrator and staff. The two-dollar donations for lunch raise funds for Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigrant Services. Other service projects include “40 Cans for Lent” (each student collects cans to stock the food bank), and Easter meal basket assembly for those in need. In March, students will come together in penitence for middle and high school penance services. During these services, students reflect on scripture, the homily, walk through Christ’s Passion in an examination of conscience, and have the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Our last Lenten gift as a school is the “Passion Encounter,” performed by Lumen students, for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. The encounter is a prayer service that alternates scripture and dramatic action to bring the Passion of Christ to life. We encourage all students to be active in their parishes and they can find additional activities and services for each Anchorage and Eagle River Parish on the campus ministry bulletin board in our hallway.

We wish all of our families and parishes a blessed, reflective, and transformational Lenten season!

Holy Rosary

Holy Rosary Academy (HRA) observes Lent through the practices suggested by the Church of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

For prayer, the students and faculty participate in Friday Stations of the Cross, in addition to weekly Mass and Rosary. Students in the elementary have daily prayer meditations and journals, which they complete with their classmates. The Upper School theology classes pick additional Lenten observances to practice together as a class such as scripture reading or acts of service. The students participate in the sacrament of reconciliation with our Dominican chaplains while on Lenten retreats as well.

The school gathers to prepare meatless Friday soups to fast together as a community, with the faculty providing soup for the Upper School students on Ash Wednesday and each of the Upper School classes preparing soups for the school on the remaining Fridays of Lent.

To give alms, HRA is collecting canned food for F.I.S.H. Our first grade class is spearheading this effort! Typically we will do a school-wide Penny Drive to inspire in the students a profound awareness of current events that call for our communal response. (e.g., We responded to the earthquakes, the tsunami, and the flooding and have sponsored a student through Caritas.)

Scheduled Community Service activities do not belong to Lent alone. Every month, groups of students go to approximately eight different locations to devote their Friday afternoons to acts of stewardship (e.g., feeding the poor at Brother Francis Shelter, befriending the elderly and disabled, stocking three different food banks, reading to young children, and performing manual labor at the local churches.)

Our students are encouraged to participate in the Easter Triduum with their local parishes and enjoy participating in the Good Friday Faith Walk, the Dominican Tenebrae and Easter celebrations with their local parishes and families.

Unique to our Lenten observances this year is a pilgrimage to Greece. Our Greek students will not only visit the ancient classical antiquities such as the Parthenon, Acropolis and Olympia but also be able to travel in the footsteps of St Paul visiting Athens and Corinth as well as Byzantine basilicas and monasteries. Our pilgrims remind us of our earthly pilgrimage in the hope that our Lenten observances may bring us to Easter. “The pilgrims’ work is walking, but the hope of arriving relieved his fatigue.”


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