A reader writes:
The suspension of penitential practice on Sundays, I would think, is more than just one option among many. I would say that the Catholic devotional and liturgical tradition, taken as a whole, inveighs against any attempt to practice penance on the Lord’s Day.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, every Sunday of Lent begins with this reading from Lauds:
Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9, 10).
The disposition demanded by this reading seems incompatible with normal penitential practices. Your take on the matter?
I would say that "inveighs" is too strong a term, especially when one is speaking of "any attempt to practice penance on the Lord’s Day" (see below on Sundays as days of penance). I also would say that "demands" is too strong a term for what the reading from Nehemiah is doing regarding our dispositions. The disposition described in Nehemiah is applicable to a particular historical situation, and the Liturgy of the Hours holds it up to us as something to be emulated to the extent our situation mirrors the one in which it was demanded–a mirroring which is only partial.
I would say, however, that the nature of Sunday as the day of commemorating the Resurrection of Our Lord makes it reasonable and even suitable to modify penitential practices on that day. It is certainly more reasonable to lessen penitential practices on Sunday than it would be, for example, on Monday. So if you are going to lighten up on yourself on a weekday of Lent, that would be the day to do it. However, Sundays remain days of penance, and if someone chooses to continue their Lenten penitential practice on Sundays while still celebrating it the way that the Church envisions it according to law, I cannot fault the person. I’m not going to tell someone who has decided to give up ice cream and television for Lent that they must plop themselves down in front of the tube with a bowl of Haagen-Dazs.