Annual Lent Fight! (2014 Ed.)

by Jimmy Akin

in Canon Law, Liturgical Year


For some years here on the blog, I have hosted a collection of posts on the subject of Lent and what the Church’s law requires during it. Together, these posts are known as the Annual Lent Fight–because many of these questions have been disputed (at times harshly).

This is because there are a lot of popular ideas (read: legends) out there about Lent, often based on attempts to summarize the Church’s law in a popular manner that ends up slightly misstating it.

If you want a careful reading of what the Church’s documents actually saw, check out the material in the Annual Lent Fight.

Is Lent really 40 days long–or is that a traditional and biblically resonant number that is attached to the days of Lent, though current documents indicate a different literal period of time?

How much food can be eaten on days of abstinence? Do you have to measure the size of the “two smaller meals” you often hear about to make sure they don’t add up to a full meal? And how would you measure that anyway? Calories? Volume? Mass? Something else?

Do caloric beverages count toward this total?

What can be eaten on days of abstinence? Do you have to avoid animal fat? Why don’t eggs and fish count as meat? Is it true that the pope was trying to protect the Italian fishing industry by allowing fish? What about eating mammals like capybaras?

Do you have to give something up for Lent? And if you do, can you have it on Sundays?

Of course, keeping the spirit of Lent means going beyond what the letter of the law mandates. A minimalistic observation of Lent focused on the least one can get away with is contrary to the orientation toward spiritual growth that the season is meant to provide.

But that’s no excuse for getting the law wrong–or for failing to grapple with the questions people have about it.

And so, let the Annual Lent Fight begin!

To prepare yourself for the Annual Lent Fight, please check out the following links:










What do you think?

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Paul McCabe March 8, 2011 at 5:15 am

Many thanks for this – I enjoyed reading and thinking through the various posts.
Particularly, the discussion of Friday Penance led me to check what my own Bishops’ Conference had said:
I found this wonderfully clear – and thankfully the same as I’d been taught!

Kelly March 8, 2011 at 6:07 am

Did I miss where I mentions caloric beverages? I could not find it and am interested to know. Anybody? Thanks!

Sharon March 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Thanks for this annual post Jimmy.

Jimmy Akin March 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Kelly: In case it got missed somewhere (I didn’t have time to read all the previous posts, though I think it’s in there), caloric beverages *do not count* toward the law of fast. Fast deals with the consumption of food, not drink.

Jimmy Akin March 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Obviously, consuming huge quantities of protein shakes on days of fast subverts the spirit of the law. However, it does not violate the letter. As always, our goal is to exceed the letter of the law in order to produce greater self control and spiritual discipline.
Moderate consumption of beverages with calories (e.g., milk, tea or coffee with milk and sugar, Coke) does not violate the spirit of the law.
Soups, stews, and porridges counts as a food rather than a drink, despite their liquid characters.

Al Hubbard March 10, 2011 at 9:41 am

As a convert I have always been ambivalent about Ash Wednesday’s restrictions on food. One year I will observe fast and abstinance, another year I will blow it off and eat what I want. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the main point of Ash Wednesday & Lent is to get us outside of our normal being and do something different, be it deprive ourselves of a favorite food or take part in some activity we normally ignore. I take it more as a personal growth thing rather than a religious one.

Chrysologus April 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Very helpful! Thanks.

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