A Lenten Devotional for the Cross

Directed Prayer for Families, Groups and Individuals by Regina Mater Educational Community

The season of Lent is a time of spiritual retreat for the Christian family. In communion with Christ in the desert, the family is invited to forty days of purification, of stripping down to bare essentials, of discipline, meditation and prayer before the festival of Easter.  These forty days are both an occasion for penance and a celebration of the joy in the Father’s forgiveness.
The duration of Lent is identical with the fasting and temptation of Christ, the forty days spent by Moses and Elijah in the wilderness, and the forty days’ grace given in the preaching of Jonah to Nineveh.
One of the most beautiful and appropriate symbols of Lent is the Lenten Cross made of wood from the Christmas tree. As a cross, it is a symbol of sacrifice and penance; as a part of the evergreen of Christmas, it is a symbol of joy, of love “greater than which no man hath.”

For this week's reading go below.

Lenten Cross
The Lenten Cross, like many practices among the Christian faithful, is of uncertain date.  Traditional Christian literature relates the Lenten Cross to Advent and the Christmas season both in terms of what the cross is made of and of what it means to the worshipping faithful.  Some Christian families in the United States, for instance, make it a point to save their Christmas tree precisely for the season of Lent. On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, they cut the rough tree trunk of the Christmas evergreen into two bars and piece them together to form a crude wooden cross. They hollow out six small holes then mount six candles for ritual lighting on Ash Wednesday, and on each of the six Sundays of Lent.

This symbol connects the whole of Christ’s life from crib to cross. We share in the joy of the birth of Christ as well as in His sorrows and in the glory of His resurrection. The Lenten Cross marks the continuity in the spiritual life of the faithful during the liturgical year. As the Advent Wreath is a preparation for the coming of Christ, so the Lenten Cross is a preparation for his resurrection.

Liturgy of the Lenten Cross
Family prayer in the home is the most basic form of communal worship or liturgy. Like the Advent Wreath, the Lenten Cross has a special attraction for children. Simple prayers and gestures during a brief ceremony become profoundly meaningful experiences and help shape the spiritual life of the family. For each member who participates, it creates a warm family connection of tradition and belonging, as well as wonder in God’s presence.
The following pages present a few special services for each week of Lent. However, you may want to formulate your family’s own prayers, songs, words and customs.
There are various customs for lighting the Lenten Cross. Some families light all the candles and extinguish one candle each week—the reverse of the Advent Wreath. Others prefer to light one more candle each consecutive week. The lighting may be accompanied by scripture readings for the day or evening prayer. Some families may choose to light the Lenten Cross at the evening meal with accompanying prayers.

Blessing of the Lenten Cross

Presider: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who has made heaven and earth.

Presider: Let us pray. O God, by whose word all things are made holy, pour forth your blessings upon this cross and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ.

All: Amen. (One purple candle, preferably the top candle, is lit by the mother. You may want your children to share in this act. During the rest of the week, this candle is relit at the evening meal or whenever the family gathers together.)

Presider: The holy cross shines in splendor.

All: In the cross is our victory and our strength.

Presider: Let us pray that we may prepare our minds and hearts during this holy season of Lent for the great joy of Easter.
(Pause for silent prayer.)

Presider: Father in heaven, look upon this family of yours for which our Lord Jesus, your Son, underwent the sacrifice of the cross. As we are ready to share in His Passion, make us ready, too, to share in His Easter glory by serving you all the days of our life. All: Amen.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent 

Beginning on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, all crucifixes, pictures and images in many churches are covered with purple drapery during the last two weeks of Lent. In some homes, statues are covered with shrouds of purple cloth made by the children old enough to sew, so that they look just “like the ones in church,” and remind us that Jesus hid Himself and went out of the Temple.

Presider: Lord, Jesus, by your holy cross guard us and keep us from all evil.

All: Bring us to the victory you have won for us.
(Five candles are lighted, including the rose-colored candle, and allowed to burn as before.)

Presider: The holy cross shines in splendor.

All: In the cross is our victory and our strength.

Presider: Let us pray: That we may live simply and humbly and bury our old selves in loving service of one another.
(Pause for silent prayer.)

Presider: Lord, you gave your life for love of us. Teach us to love one another with that same love; that we may all share in your Easter joy.

All: Amen.

Visit the page for each Sunday in Lent.

For more Lenten resources, go here.