Lent Resources

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgical Year

Okay, Lent is about to begin again, and that generates questions (and quarrels) every year. We may as well get the annual Lenten controversy underway with a bang.

Here’s a basic fact sheet (with some surprising facts that I’ll probably have to follow up on–trust me, after answering Lent questions every year for the last twelve years, I’ve researched these points quite thoroughly):

  • Lent begins at midnight Ash Wednesday and ends at the beginning of the
    Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, at which point Triduum
    begins.
  • We are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • The law of fast binds everybody from ages 18-59 unless they have a
    medical condition that would interfere significantly with fasting.
  • The law of fast allows the eating of one full meal plus two smaller
    meals, provided the two smaller- meals are not as large as a regular
    meal if combined. This law, of course, is hopelessly confusing as many
    people tend not to eat similarly-sized meals.
  • We are obliged to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of
    Lent, and Good Friday.
  • The law of abstinence binds everyone who is fourteen years old and up
    unless they have a medical condition that would interfere significantly
    with abstinence from meat.
  • The law of abstinence forbids the eating dishes principally or
    substantially comprised of the flesh of land-dwelling mammals and birds (trace
    amounts of meat and other parts of the body besides meat do not count).
    According to the common and contant opinion of learned persons, as found
    in the older moral and pastoral theologies, the law of abstinence does
    not affect reptiles, amphibians, insects, or anything that is a water-dwelling animal (even if it is a
    mammal, so dolphin is okay). It also does not affect gravies or other
    sauces (even if these are made with meat), and it does not affect
    anything made from parts of land-dwelling animals other their meat (so
    milk, cheese, eggs, things made with animal fat, and Jell-O, which comes
    from hooves, are okay).
  • Despite hymns to the contrary, Lent is not forty days long. It may
    have been at one time, but the way the Church’s liturgical documents are
    written today, Lent is just under 44 days long. (It would be forty-four
    if it didn’t end on the evening of Holy Thursday.) The number 40 is thus
    only an approximation.
  • The way the Church’s documents are written, Sundays are part of
    Lent, but since penances other than fast and absinence on the required
    days are voluntary, you can cut yourself a break on Sunday from whatever
    other penance you may have decided to do.
  • To fulfill our Easter duty,we are obliged to receive Communion at some
    point between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday, which is the Sunday
    after Pentecost (unless for a just cause this requirement is fulfilled
    at another time of year).

More info on Lent here:

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2001/0104fea1.asp

And here:

http://jimmyakin.org.master.com/texis/master/search/?q=lent&s=SS

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{ 36 comments }

Paul February 8, 2005 at 4:12 am

You should not list these requirements today – Mardi Gras! Unless you repeat tomorrow. By the way, did you know that Ash Wednesday IS a holy day of obligation in Louisiana? Ask any Catholic on the street or bayou.

Jamie February 8, 2005 at 5:57 am

You might want to include the fact that pregnancy is considered a sufficient medical condition.

rj February 8, 2005 at 6:33 am

Like a mother who never throws anything out, Holy Mother Church keeps two traditions side by side. One is the DISCIPLINARY aspect of Lent (beginning Ash Wednesday and concluding Holy Saturday, excluding the Sundays [How can they fast while the Bridegroom is still with them?...]; thus, 40 days). The other is the LITURGICAL aspect of Lent (beginning the First Sunday of Lent–the first day the entire People of God are obliged to celebrate the Lenten Liturgy–and concluding on Holy Thursday with the beginning of the Sacred Triduum, including all Sundays; thus, 40 days). Liturgically, the weekdays of the First Week of Lent follow the First Sunday of Lent, not Ash Wednesday; the Lenten discipline, however, has already begun.

Steven D. Greydanus February 8, 2005 at 6:59 am

rj, do you have any authoritative warrant for attributing either of your two “side-by-side” aspect-of-Lent traditions to Holy Mother Church?
P.S. Of course mothers, including Holy Mother Church, throw things out. What kind of mothers would they be if they didn’t?

Chris-2-4 February 8, 2005 at 7:25 am

Nah… There’s 40 Days. Canon Law is Wrong. :)
It’s not as if the “40 days of Lent” is without basis at all. If you begin on Ash Wednesday and count the days up through Holy Saturday excluding the “Little Easters” you get 40. Thus it is not “only an approximation”, it is grounded in the understanding of Christian’s since the earliest times. Although you note that Lent “Technically” ends on Holy Thursday, I do not believe that it has really been the common practice since the founding of the Church to end Lent on this day. Even though this is when the “Triduum” begins, I don’t believe that the “sensum fidei” throughout the ages would really say that “Lent has ended and the Triduum has begun” rather that “The Triduum has begun, thus these are the Holiest Days of Lent”.

Funky Dung February 8, 2005 at 8:01 am

I must concur with the commenters regarding the length of Lent. It’s 40 days if you exclude the Sundays and count Holy Saturday. There’s a good Catholic Encyclopedia article on the evolution of Lent and the ways the counting has changed over time.

Steven D. Greydanus February 8, 2005 at 8:14 am

Chris 2-4,
The sensus fidei or “sense of the faith” relates to the supernatural apprehension and appreciation of matters of divine faith — not, AFAIK, to matters of liturgical or disciplinary practice. Not to say that there can’t be some sort of legitimacy to common practice or pious tradition, but AFAIK it’s nothing to do with the sensus fidei.
In any case, you can’t pit the sensus fidei against competent authority. Competent authority has the final word.
Funky,
If you’re talking about the “old” Catholic Encyclopedia, i.e., the one that’s online at newadvent.org, that encyclopedia would of course not take into account changes in church law in the last century or so.

Chris-2-4 February 8, 2005 at 8:34 am

Steven:
I wasn’t exactly pitting the sensus fidei against competent authority. (Althought the Church recognizes that the sensus fidei IS a competent authority, just not the highest authority). I was merely pointing out that what Lent MEANS to Catholics throughout the ages has been that time of devotion and penance leading up to Easter INCLUDING (even if in a different way) the Triduum. The Triduum, as I said, being viewed, not outside Lent, but the fullness or CULMINATION of it. It’s like going from “Lent” to “Lenter”. Good Friday of course being the “Lentest” day of all.
My point was actually that because of what I just outlined, the “40 Days” of lent is not an approximation but a definte understanding of what Lent means to the faithful, but tempered by the teaching of the Church. Thus the Sundays are excluded as “Little Easters”.

Suzanne February 8, 2005 at 8:43 am

I’m just glad I can drink broth!

Chris-2-4 February 8, 2005 at 8:57 am

The term I was looking for and meant to use was “Sensus Fedelium” for “Sense of the Faithful” rather than “Sensum Fidei”.

Moochie February 8, 2005 at 9:12 am

Yes, Suzanne, it would seem so! I guess a beef or chicken broth/stock, made from bones, etc, would be OK on days of abstinence, given Jimmy’s 7th bullet point. So long as there’s not meat in the soup. Good news to those who really dislike clam or corn chowder!
But I love clam chowder!

c matt February 8, 2005 at 9:54 am

Without getting too technical, what part of the mammal counts as “meat” – flesh/muscle only? Would liver count (talk about penance)?

Other Eric February 8, 2005 at 10:26 am

Hi c matt!
I think liver would have to count. Otherwise people would be feasting upon goose liver paté and calling it “penance.”

Kevin February 8, 2005 at 10:31 am

Question:
Does the details regarding the Ash Weds/Good Friday fast differ around the world? In other words do Nationial Conferences of Bishops change anything regarding this? In particular: what is the law in Poland?

dcs February 8, 2005 at 11:42 am

According to the common and contant opinion of learned persons, as found in the older moral and pastoral theologies, the law of abstinence does not affect reptiles, amphibians, insects, or anything that is a water-dwelling animal (even if it is a mammal, so dolphin is okay). It also does not affect gravies or other sauces (even if these are made with meat)
I think you are mistaken about gravies and sauces (and broths, etc.) made with meat, at least according to traditional moral theology. These do fall under the rules of abstinence.
Also, it’s worthwhile to point out that while fasting, meat can only be taken at the main meal and not at the collations.
I’d like to see a citation for the claim about dolphin, too. My understanding is that the “dividing line” (so to speak) is between warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals, so that mammals and birds are off-limits but alligators, turtles, and frogs (etc.) are fine.

Funky Dung February 8, 2005 at 12:28 pm

If you’re talking about the “old” Catholic Encyclopedia, i.e., the one that’s online at newadvent.org, that encyclopedia would of course not take into account changes in church law in the last century or so.
I was unaware that the 40 days of Lent had been redefined in the last century. According to Wikipedia, Lent is 40 days from from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, not including Sundays. The problem is, that’s less than 40. This makes no sense to me, given the following from ye olde Catholic Encyclopedia.
“In the time of Gregory the Great (590-604) there were apparently at Rome six weeks of six days each, making thirty-six fast days in all, which St. Gregory, who is followed therein by many medieval writers, describes as the spiritual tithing of the year, thirty-six days being approximately the tenth part of three hundred and sixty-five. At a later date the wish to realize the exact number of forty days led to the practice of beginning Lent upon our present Ash Wednesday, but the Church of Milan, even to this day adheres to the more primitive arrangement, which still betrays itself in the Roman Missal when the priest in the Secret of the Mass on the first Sunday of Lent speaks of ‘sacrificium quadragesimalis initii’, the sacrifice of the opening of Lent.”
So the Church moved Lent back to Ash Wednesday to go from 36 to 40 days. When did we stop including the Triduum, thus reducing Lent to 37?!? Who’s brilliant idea was that? If the answer is Vatican II, I might scream.

Funky Dung February 8, 2005 at 12:32 pm

mea culpa – 38 days
Easter Sunday isn’t counted, so only Good Friday and Holy Saturday are subtracted.

Eric Giunta February 8, 2005 at 12:44 pm

“I think you are mistaken about gravies and sauces (and broths, etc.) made with meat, at least according to traditional moral theology. These do fall under the rules of abstinence.”
I have to agree with DCS here.
And not only that, but we have to consider the SPIRIT of the law, not merely the letter. Thus, I find it very hard to believe that it’s okay to eat a veggie-burger during a Lenten Friday. Sure, it may not be technically meat, but it’s a good enough approximation to it, and the whole point of this Lenten abstinence is to deny ourselves the very taste of meat, not necessarily to keep meat-substances out of our body. It’s a question of self-denial, not ritual purity.
I would also say that the spirit of the law is violated when families decide to go to Red Lobster and have a sea-food feast. And in the same vein I’m suspicious of the parish Friday “fish-frys”.
Who is one fooling, abstaining from meat our of penance, but instead having lobster dinner? C’mon . . .

Funky Dung February 8, 2005 at 2:37 pm

Amen, Eric.

Suzanne February 8, 2005 at 5:04 pm

Ya see, I am planning a very self-denying lent. I am going on a juice/liquid fast. So I was kinda glad to hear about the boullion/broth just in case the carrot and spinach juice doesn’t sit right with me. I am going to trust Jimmy that broth is OK.

Funky Dung February 8, 2005 at 6:40 pm

I don’t think your body will be very happy with you if you go on a liquid fast all of Lent. If you haven’t already, you should consult a physician. I hope you’ll at least eat solid food on Sundays.

John Lilburne February 10, 2005 at 3:04 pm

“125. In the Roman Rite, the beginning of the forty days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday.”
Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy,
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
17 December 2001
The forty days, not including Sundays, go from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.
See http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html

Alexandra February 24, 2005 at 10:03 am

Hi,
I’m a reporter for the Miami Herald and I’m working on an article about Lenten blogs. I was hoping to speak to people who are posting their Lenten practices/reflections online (I’m particularly interested in locating people in South Florida).
You can contact me at aalter@herald.com if interested.
Alexandra

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joe March 1, 2006 at 2:07 pm

Can someone answer this: I’ve always been irked by empty holy water fonts during lent. What’s the skinny on this practice? Is it right? Naturally, it seems like it totally misses the point; if lent is a renewal of our focus and dependance on God, should’t we take every opportunity to make use of these grace bestowing sacramentals. Is there ever a time where we should encourage the faithful to “fast” and “abstain” from vehicles that distribute grace. If i’m wrong, let me know; be nice, though.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. March 1, 2006 at 3:26 pm

They may be emptied at the conclusion of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. They are refilled with the water blessed for Baptism on Holy Saturday night.

joe March 1, 2006 at 3:38 pm

Thanks Fr. Stephanos! My church took away the holy water today already….. And I just wanted to verify that I’m gettin’ deprived of some allowable blessings.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. March 1, 2006 at 3:50 pm

So your priest must be hiding some from the faithful. What’s he going to use for those Baptisms of infants that may take place in the meantime? What’s he going to use to bless branches on Palm Sunday? What’s he going to use if he uses that allowable option for the Penitential Rite at Mass that calls for sprinkling water?

Michele March 1, 2006 at 6:13 pm

Hi everyone. I have a samll, rather silly question: I am a new convert (From a Baptist background) and today I revieved my first ashes. (Cool, eah?) Here’s the question: what do you do when you get them, do you thank the father? Make the sign of the cross? Or just walk away? I don’t really recall getting a briefing on this!What else can I expect in the next few weeks??
Please respond to my email address – with ash weds. in the subject. Thanks>

Catholic Lenten Traditions January 18, 2007 at 11:49 pm

Catholic Lenten Traditions

Brazil – Traditions and Catholic videos on RCIA, Christian initiation, m

Karen Harris February 23, 2007 at 8:07 pm

The last bullet of Jimmy’s list is: “To fulfill our Easter duty,we are obliged to receive Communion at some point between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday, which is the Sunday after Pentecost (unless for a just cause this requirement is fulfilled at another time of year).”
But I am unable to be absolved through reconciliation right now so I cannot receive the Blessed Sacrament. This is not some exception is it?

spytruojv July 12, 2007 at 11:35 pm
Marty Helgesen February 6, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Several years ago my then pastor tried the “fasting from holy water” nonsense for two years before putting it back in the fonts. (I don’t know whether he got comlaints or just returned to proper conduct on his own.) During those two years I went to another parish which still had holy water available and filled a small bottle which I brought with me when I went to Mass. A cylindrical bottle originally used for prescription tablets or capsules was small enough and watertight. I thought of it as similar to the hip flasks that were used during Prohibition.

Michael McGrady February 27, 2008 at 11:57 am

Jimmy,
Thanks for all that you do for the Catholic faith.
Certainly enjoy listening to your answers on Catholic Answers Live and please continue your participation on the show.
1) The Church does not state that the faithful should fast every day during lent but only on the specified days, those being Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Then there is abstinence from meat every Friday during Lent.
What the Church does ask of us during Lent is that we fast from sin, especially habitual sin and increase, in some small way, our good works and prayer life. If a fast, perhaps in the evening, would assist in curbing a habitual sin then this would obviously benefit the soul. Where we must use our God given intellect is in prayerfully understanding, with a good spiritual director, God’s will for our lives so that we don’t over extend our fasting efforts in a way that would weaken our skills to do the daily work that The Lord, in His goodness, has given us to do.
2) On another topic, I fail to understand why I see folks praying the Rosary during Mass. This is a disordered action. I pray the rosary daily and hope I will never cease doing so but I don’t pray the Rosary at Mass. Praying the rosary during Mass while a soul should be participating either vocally or silently conflicts with our spiritual worship at Holy Mass. Consider what St. Paul describes about how we worship the Lord: “….present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Mary Kay February 27, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Michael, praying the rosary during Mass was very common prior to Vatican II. One of the reforms was to clarify the distinction between liturgy and devotion. It’s simply a holdover.

christine March 15, 2008 at 2:06 pm

hi Jimmy,
i got a quick question for you. can you please tell me if the Lent regulations listed on your page are for the universal church or just for within the U.S? i have a friend in Canada and we’re wondering what the Canadian teachings are. if you don’t know, could you direct me to a place that has more info? thank you!!!
sincerely,
Christine

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