We asked prominent Christians what they are giving up for Lent. Their answers range from blogs to fruit juice and moreish digestives

Lord Alton of Liverpool
Crossbench peer

I guess Lent should be a season in which to take stock. Setting aside some extra time for reflection would certainly help me to do that better. And reconnecting with some trusted guides, like Thomas à Kempis, Ignatius and Newman, will offer some signposts. Last year I felt really challenged by Simon Sebag Montefiore’s brilliant “biography of Jerusalem”, and this year I have the story of Shin Dong Hyok’s remarkable Escape From Camp 14 and Shusaku Endo’s Silence to concentrate my mind. Of course, in Lent we should also deprive ourselves of something we enjoy. I will, not least because it helps me appreciate just how much I have.

Anna Arco
Editor-at-large of The Catholic Herald

My Lenten intentions are pretty dull. I won’t be foreswearing Facebook or giving up the messenger programme on my phone this Lent. I’m giving up alcohol, trying to keep gossip at a minimum and taking up the Stations of the Cross written by Blessed John Henry Newman.

Robin Baird Smith
Publishing director of Bloomsbury/Continuum

The idea of happiness has never meant a great deal to me. I’m not a misery guts. I just find it elusive. The real commodity is joy, Christian joy which is something far more profound. I am going to spend Lent trying to think about this more deeply. In my wallet I shall keep a piece of paper with this quote from von Hügel written on it, which says it all: “Religion has never made me happy; it is no use shutting your eyes to the fact that the deeper you go, the more alone you will find yourself. Religion has never made me comfy. I have been in the desert for 10 years. All deepened life is deepened suffering, deepened dreariness, deeper joy. Suffering and joy. The final note of religion is joy.”

Bishop John Arnold
Auxiliary bishop of Westminster

For Lent, I usually set myself a task. This year I am trying to concentrate on Vatican II and its continuing importance for the life of the Church. So for Lent I will be taking one of the four Constitutional Documents, probably Lumen Gentium, and I will read both the text and some commentaries. During Lent I also try – as far as possible – to fix a short time regularly in each day for a reflection on the Scripture that we hear during the Lenten period.

Sister Wendy Beckett
Art historian

During Lent I do nothing extra. After all, it is surely a time less for “giving up” and more for “looking up”: up to Jesus on the Cross. A nun wants to look at him always, so Lent is really just a re-dedication to prayer and to entering into the sacrifice of the Mass.

Frank Cottrell Boyce
Screenwriter and novelist

I generally give up tea and coffee, which means I spent the first week with a splitting headache and no energy because it turns out that what I regard as my perky personality is actually just a reaction to caffeine.

Julie Etchingham
ITV News at Ten presenter

I always start with great intentions but they usually slip. I do some of the predictable stuff, like giving up biscuits, and try hard with alcohol but often fail. One thing I did last year was to give up reading trashy gossip in the papers online. It’s a big temptation as a journalist but good to give it a miss. I know that if it’s something I really need to know for my job then someone will tell me. I’ll also try to go to an extra Mass during the working week when I can.

Peter Hitchens
Journalist and author

I haven’t really decided on any Lent observance. I find Lent far too long to keep to any serious resolve, and so tend to give things up for Advent, which is in a way harder because everyone else is busy indulging themselves in the belief that it is Christmas, but is also easier because it is much shorter.

Bishop Alan Hopes
Auxiliary bishop of Westminster

Lent is about tightening one’s own spiritual life. I usually try and give up something. For example, I love bread and so I will try to give that up and I usually give up all forms of alcohol. I also try and do something every week such as going to see someone who is sick or contacting a friend that I have not seen for a while.

Fr Christopher Jamison
Director of the National Office for Vocation

Having thought about this, I think the following texts should apply: Mt 6:3-4, 6:6, 6:18.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster

For many people, Lent should be a time for doing in earnest what they should be doing all the year round. I will endeavour to watch less television, give more time to private prayer and to spiritual reading.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

Our diocesan themes for the Year of Faith for this coming Lent focus on the sacraments, in particular the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of Marriage. My Lenten effort will reflect these themes: a renewed awareness of my sin and God’s loving mercy and a daily prayer for married couples and their families.

Catherine Pepinster
Editor of The Tablet

I’ve always found it helpful as preparation for the great feast of Easter to choose a book to read during Lent. This year I’m going to try and fill a great gap in my learning by reading Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, not least because the one line I know of hers – “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” – has helped me greatly. It’s the simplest and most profound reminder of what humanity lacks so frequently: the optimism that comes from completely trusting in the Lord. An added boost to my reading will be a course that’s coming up this Lent, “Preparing for the Feast of Easter: a journey with St Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich and on into Holy Week” given by Sister Bernadette Hunston at Ealing Abbey’s Benedictine Study and Arts Centre (visit Bsac.macmate.me). As I write this, one of the last chocolate biscuits that I will consume this February is passing my lips. Lent without McVitie’s plain chocolate digestives will be a penance indeed.

Stuart Reid

I love Lent and I dread it. I approach it rather as one might approach a course of dental treatment. It’s the prospect of fasting that I don’t like, even if what we call a fast would be a feast to millions in the developing world. My personal aims this Lent: to be cheerful in the home, to stop reading the blogs that make me angry (which is most of them), to attend Mass during the week and never to stay silent when I have the opportunity to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage, especially in the company of nice middle-class people who will think me narrow-minded and stupid
for doing so. Roll on Ash Wednesday!

Tim Stanley
Historian and Telegraph blogger

It might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ll mark Lent by going to church more. I like to try to go to Mass two or three times a week and attend Confession as often as possible. I’ll also abstain from alcohol, which probably means I’ll smoke more instead. My toughest Lent ever was when I gave up tea. I never realised how much I relied on the brown nectar to get through the day, how every hour had been celebrated with a cup of PG Tips. But I survived. I think the key to Lenten vows is not to see them as self-punishment but as something that reminds you about God. The fact that this year I won’t be able to take the edge off the day with a gin and tonic will accomplish that very well.

Ann Widdecombe
Former Conservative MP

I’ll be doing what I do every year which is to give up everything except water to drink. I’ve done this for 23 years. It’s everything: not only no alcohol but no coffee, tea or fruit juice. Of course it’s hard. On a freezing cold day the first thing you want is a nice cup of hot coffee and all you get is a glass of water. But the idea of Lent is penance – people lose sight of that completely.