Let begins tomorrow! Are you ready? Below are 6 common questions Catholics (and non-Catholics) ask about Lent.
1. What is Lent?
According to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, “Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices” (General Norms 27).
2. Is Lent actually forty days long?
Technically, no. According to the General Norms, “Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, exclusive” (General Norms 28). This means Lent ends at the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Count it as you will, that’s more than forty days. Therefore, the number forty in traditional hymns such as “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” is only an approximation.
3. Are Sundays excluded from Lent?
No. The definition of what days are included in Lent is given above, in General Norms 28. No exception is made for Sundays. Indeed, the General Norms go on to specifically name the Sundays of the period as belonging to the season: “The Sundays of this season are called the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. The Sixth Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, is called Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday)” (General Norms 30).
Some people customarily allow themselves on Sunday to have things they have voluntarily given up for Lent, but since these forms of self-denial were voluntarily assumed anyway, a person is not under an obligation to practice them on Sunday (or any other specific day of the week).
4. What are fast and abstinence?
Under current canon law in the Western rite of the Church, a day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast.
In this country you may eat a single, normal meal and have two snacks so long as these snacks do not add up to a second meal. Children are not required to fast, but their parents must ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting.
A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years and older are required to abstain from eating meat. (Though under the current discipline of the Western rite of the Church, fish, eggs, milk products, and foods made using animal fat are permitted, they are not in the Eastern rites.) Their pastor can easily dispense those with medical conditions from the requirements of fast and/or abstinence.
5. In addition to Ash Wednesday, are any other days during Lent days of fast or abstinence?
Yes. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence. Also, Good Friday, the day on which Christ was crucified, is day of both fast and abstinence.
All days in Lent are appropriate for fasting or abstaining, but canon law does not require it. Such fasting or abstinence is voluntary.
6. Why are Fridays during Lent days of abstinence?
Because Jesus died for our sins on Friday, making it an especially appropriate day of mourning our sins by denying ourselves something we enjoy. (By the same token, Sunday-the day on which he rose for our salvation-is an especially appropriate day to rejoice.)
During the rest of the year Catholics in this country are permitted to use a different act of penance on Friday in place of abstinence, though all Fridays are days of penance on which we are required to do something expressing sorrow for our sins.