Following are a few questions readers might have regarding the Season of Lent which we hope will clarify
for all the purpose and meaning of Lent. These have been provided by the Catholic Dispatch and reprinted
There have been questions regarding why 40 days in Lent, the difference between fasting and abstinence, and what is attained through Lenten sacrifice. With Ash Wednesday just around the corner we want to address these to help all to better prepare for this grace-filled season where great merits can be gained through our sacrifices and submission to God's Holy Will.
The Forty Days of Lent starting from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday
(excluding all Sundays) is "observed as a preparation for the passion,
death and resurrection of our Lord and as a time of penitence, prayer and
fasting, spiritual and physical. Forty is the number of days of the Flood,
of the years of the Israelites' wandering, of the days of the fast of
Elias, of Moses on Sinai and of our Lord in the desert." - From "A
Catholic Dictionary", (Attwater) 1954
Some people mistakenly think that the "40 days of Lent" include
the Sundays. Were we to count from Ash Wednesday, including each Sunday, we
would find that the 40th day would fall on Palm Sunday! But this is not so.
The Sundays are undeniably part of the Lenten season, but they are not
part of the penitential 40 days of Lent. Sunday is a Holy Day of
Obligation; the Day of Rest; the Lord's Day. Catholics have never been
obliged to fast on such days. When we count from Ash Wednesday and EXCLUDE
all Sundays, we find that the 40th day is Holy Saturday, the day before Our
Lord's resurrection, as it should be. The 40 days of penance and
mortification are fulfilled without being contiguous.
There have been several questions about the difference between fasting and abstinence.
"Fasting" means to only eat ONE full meal per day, with the two others
being very light, together which wouldn't make one full meal.
"Abstinence" means to abstain from eating flesh meat. This is often
confused with fasting. Fish is not considered flesh meat. All the Fridays
of the year (in honor of the day on which our Savior died) are days of
complete abstinence unless a Holy Day of obligation falls on a Friday, such
as the Feast of the Assumption, or Christmas.
Traditionally, fasting has been observed for the full 40 days with
complete abstinence from meat on the Fridays (and 3 Ember days), and
partial abstinence on the other fast days.
"Partial abstinence" means to eat meat only at the main, full meal.
Some have asked if it is simply a sacrifice that we are offering by giving up
something for forty days? What do we gain through penance during Lent?
The answer is:
Everything - the Redemption, the Sacraments, sacrifice, penance, grace,
prayer, and working out our salvation in general "in fear and trembling" as
St. Paul says - all focus on the fact and existence of "original sin" in
which we were born.
The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, by their first grave sin,
destroyed for all mankind the balance of nature making man's body unruly
and weakening his will-power to keep his body in subjection. Baptism washes
away the guilt of original sin but does not rid us of the effects - the
pull of our lower nature to disobey God by sinning against the divine order
God gave man a spiritual, immortal soul. The two main faculties of the
soul are man's INTELLECT and his WILL.
The "intellect" knows what is good, and the "will" can either follow
it, or sin by acting against it. Christ redeemed us, making available
sufficient grace for all men (if they seek it) to enlighten their intellect
and strengthen their will so as to, in a sense, regain that proper balance
that Adam and Eve lost for us. This is the meaning of life, and we are all
called to seek this as the Saints have done to a most excellent degree.
Christ founded the Catholic Church to guide men's intellects to what is
good, and He instituted the seven Sacraments to strengthen man's will by
grace so that he may follow that which he knows to be good. It is man's
obligation to always strive to know the Catholic religion and to know his
obligations according to the teachings of the Church. This is "conscience."
We must then strive to follow what we know is true and good by our
intellect, and to always strive to know this correctly. Man is free to
follow his conscience but he does NOT have a right to form his conscience
the way he pleases. He MUST form his conscience according to the teachings
which the Catholic Church has always taught down through the ages. There is
a serious heresy infecting the Church today which is contrary to this
truth: This so-called "liberty of conscience and worship" is a grave error
against the Faith; Pope Pius IX in "Quanta Cura," quoting St. Augustine,
called this modern error the "liberty of perdition."
Man sins by a weak will-power. It is through prayer and sacrifice, and
God's grace, that man strengthens his will-power to avoid sin. Giving up
something such as meat on Friday helps to strengthen our will, mortifies
the passions of the body, and gains for us graces. We also gain grace
because we obey the Church; obedience further helps to break our self-will
which is the source of so much sin. Such sacrifices as these also satisfy
for our sins.
It is man's obligation to do these things above and beyond this, but
the Church makes this much mandatory under pain of sin because it gives man
a starting point and keeps sacrifice upon his mind. Without it, man might
fall to doing none at all and even forget about it altogether, and thus
lose his soul in hell for eternity.