As Roman Catholics and some Luthereans and Episcopalians observe Lent this season, many will recall when the season meant rigid fasting, praying and giving up things from movies to sweets. But today, churches have devised creative programs to stress the new emphasis on performance of extra charitable acts during Lent.

St. Mark's Catholic Church in Vienna started several new "positive" Lenten programs this year."i guess this new emphasis on the positive came out of the Second Vatican Council in 1965," said the Rev. James Mccullough. "We still give up things but hope people won't be satisfied with just that. I emphasize acts of kindness and allowing more time for reading the Bible," he said.

This week a Lanten self-renewal retreat drew an average of 150 people to St Mark's each night as parishioners listened to guest speakers and prayed.

A Friday night program, combining dinner and stations of the cross has drawn over 200 parishioners who eat a meager meal of soup and bread and then recite prayers in remembrance of Christ's death on the cross. Participants then donate to charity what they would have spent on a meal.

"this is the first year we've tried the soup and stations, and I think it was a good way of tying in the traditional reflection with some kind of social dimension," said the Rev. Thomas Cassidy, pastor of St. Mark's. "We've already collected around $800 which we'll donate to a Vienna family who's had a lot of medical expenses with two of their children," he said.

John and Chris Nunziata said attending the Sunday morning children's liturgy with their son and daughter has made their Lent more meaningful.

"We (children) all get to sit up on the altar and the priest tells us stories about Lent," said John Michael Nunziata, who is eight years old. "It's sorta fun!"

"Every week they have a project to work on with a theme," said Chris Nunziata, "and once a week we'll get together and work on a poster symbolizing the themes they've studied."

"I've noticed the discussions at the dinner table changing," said John Nunziata. "Once week their theme was friendship, and we talked about the friends we've had and how they helped us. The children really keyed in on it."

The children's liturgy mass will continue after Lent.

"We tried to develop two or three things people could do," said Cassidy, "because we knew everyone couldn't attend all of the functions. Between the self-renewal week, soup and stations and classes there is something for everyone."

Kathy Mcnabb, her husband and their five children have been attending the soup and stations on Fridays and she has also participated in the self-renewal week. "I think it's (observing Lent at St. Mark's) another way to draw people together in this rushing world," she said. "I think the idea of being more positive about what we're doing is good."

"We used to walk around with long faces (during Lent) and sacrifice, but at the same time patting ourselves on the back," Mcnabb said. "But we weren't really doing anything." CAPTION: Picture, John-Michael, 8, and Katie, 5, discuss the Lenten theme posters they are preparing with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Nunziata. Family attends St. Mark's. By Joe Heiberger-The Washington Post