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
- 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: