Your students likely know that Lent is a time of fasting and doing penance, but do they know why? The forty days of fasting and penance are in imitation of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert prior to the beginning of his ministry (see Luke 4:1-13)

Abstaining from food has always been a part of Lent. In some eras, the requirements for fasting were very difficult. In the seventh century, St. Gregory the Great wrote: “We abstain from flesh meat and from all things that come from flesh, such as milk cheese, eggs—and butter of course.”

During those times, as Ash Wednesday approached, families used up any of those food products that could not be eaten during Lent. From this practice have come such holidays as Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday) and Carnival (“removal of meat”). Celebrations mark these days and continue to be part of the pre-Lenten week.

Today, there are not as many required penances during Lent. In the United States, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting (from age 18 to 59) and abstinence (for anyone over 14). Fasting means that only one main meal and two smaller meals may be eaten. Abstinence means that no meat or meat products may be eaten on these days or on any Friday of Lent.

Teens are generally open to “giving something up” for Lent, even non-Catholic teens. The forty days of penance is a good chance to clear their lives of sinfulness and bad habits and to get a new start in goodness and truth in Christ. As a class assignment, share the following list of forty things a teen (or adult) can give up for Lent. (Some of these items can be given up permanently.) Have them do the following:

• Suggest other items.

• Make a pledge to give up one or more of the items on the list.

• Keep a journal of their penitential experience.

• Promise to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance before Easter.

The List 40 Things to Give Up for Lent

  1. Listening to gossip
  2. Swearing
  3. Getting high
  4. Texting and driving
  5. Snapchat
  6. Instagram
  7. Plagiarizing a report
  8. Cheating on a test
  9. Pornography
  10. Missing Mass
  11. Missing family functions
  12. Driving
  13. Headphones
  14. Cliquish behavior
  15. Not exercising
  16. Provocative dancing
  17. Masturbation
  18. Alcohol
  19. Wasting money
  20. Television
  21. Music with sexual or violent lyrics
  22. Arguing
  23. Disobeying parents
  24. Belittling another
  25. Ignoring a classmate
  26. Lack of effort on academics
  27. Skipping a day of prayer
  28. Selfies
  29. Buying new clothes
  30. Soda
  31. Being in a hurry
  32. Procrastination
  33. Fried foods
  34. Forgetting to call Grandma
  35. Ungratefulness
  36. Hopelessness
  37. Too much sleep
  38. Too little sleep
  39. Meanness
  40. Chocolate