What is Lent? Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. The Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices"

 

Is Lent actually forty days long? Technically, no. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper (Holy Thursday). Count it as you will, that's more than forty days. So, forty days is an approximation. In the Bible, forty days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation. Moses stayed on the mountain of God forty days (Ex. 24:18, 34:28). The spies were in the land forty days (Num. 13:25). Elijah traveled forty days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kgs. 19:8). Nineveh was given forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4). And, most significantly for our Lenten observance, Jesus spent forty days in wilderness praying and fasting prior to undertaking his ministry (Matt. 4:2). Thus it is fitting for Christians to imitate him with a forty-day period of prayer and fasting to prepare to celebrate the climax of Christ's ministry, Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (the day of the Resurrection).

 

Are Sundays excluded from Lent? No exception is made for Sundays.
Some people customarily allow themselves on Sunday to have things they have voluntarily given up for Lent, but since these forms of self-denial were voluntarily assumed anyway, a person is not under an obligation to practice them on Sunday (or any other specific day of the week).

 

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."

 

What are fast and abstinence? A day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast. In this country you may eat a single, normal meal. Two other smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one's needs. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids including milk and fruit juices are allowed. Children are not required to fast, but their parents must ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting. A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years and older are required to abstain from eating meat. The pastor can easily dispense those with medical conditions from the requirements of fast and/or abstinence.

 

What is the Eucharistic Fast? This is the fast required of Catholics when they receive the Eucharist. Canon law states, "One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion" (CIC 919 1). Elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast (CIC 191 3). Priests and deacons may not dispense one obligated by the Eucharistic fast unless the bishop has expressly granted such power to them (cf. CIC 89).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, and Ash Wednesday are days 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.) During the rest of the year Catholics in this country are permitted to use a different act of penance on Friday in place of abstinence, though all Fridays are days of penance on which we are required to do something expressing sorrow for our sins.

 

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 sacrifice something pleasurable (such as sex outside marriage) or endure hardship (such as being scorned for the faith), spiritual flabbiness may well make us fail.

 

Aside from Ash Wednesday, what are the principal events of Lent? There are a variety of saints' days that fall during Lent, and some of these change from year to year, since the dates of Lent itself change based on when Easter falls. However, the Sundays during the Lenten season commemorate special events in the life of our Lord, such as his Transfiguration and his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. Holy Week climaxes with Holy Thursday, on which Christ celebrated the first Mass; Good Friday, on which he was crucified; and Holy Saturday-the last day of Lent-during which our Lord lay in the tomb before his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.