What You Need to Know About Lent
Why is the season called Lent?
Lent is the Old English word for spring. In almost all other languages, Lent’s name is a derivative of the Latin term quadragesima or “the forty days.”
Is there a biblical basis for abstaining from meat as a sign of repentance?
Yes. The book of Daniel states, “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . ‘I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over’” (Dan. 10:1-3).
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.
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.)
Are acts of repentance appropriate on other days during Lent?
Yes. The Code of Canon Law states, “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and time throughout the universal Church” (CIC 1250).
Why are acts of repentance appropriate at this time of year?
Because it is the time leading up to the commemoration of our Lord’s death for our sins and the commemoration of his resurrection for our salvation. It is thus especially appropriate to mourn the sins for which he died. Humans have an innate psychological need to mourn tragedies, and our sins are tragedies of the greatest sort.
What are appropriate activities for ordinary days during Lent?
Giving up something we enjoy, engaging in physical or spiritual acts of mercy for others, prayer, fasting, abstinence, going to confession, and other acts expressing repentance in general.
Is the custom of giving up something for Lent mandatory?
No. However, it is a salutary custom, and parents or guardians may choose to require it, since the spiritual training of their children is their prime responsibility.
Why is giving up something for Lent such a salutary custom?
By denying ourselves something we enjoy, we discipline our wills so that we are not slaves to our pleasures. Just as over-indulging in the pleasure of eating leads to physical flabbiness, over-indulging in pleasure in general leads to spiritual flabbiness. When the demands of morality require us to refuse something pleasurable (such as sex outside marriage) or endure hardship (such as being scorned for the faith), spiritual flabbiness may well make us fail.