Q. Why do we say that there are forty days ofLent? When you count all the days from
Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, there are 46.
A. It might be more accurate to say that there is
the "forty day fast within Lent." Historically, Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present
configuration of 46 days. The forty day
fast, however, has been more stable. The
Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the Time of Lent, but they are not
prescribed days of fast and abstinence.
Q. So does that mean that when we give something up
for Lent, such as candy, we can have it on Sundays?
A. Apart from the prescribed days of fast and
abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the days of abstinence every
Friday of Lent, Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential
practices for the whole Time of Lent. These practices are disciplinary in nature and often more effective if
they are continuous, i.e., kept on Sundays as well. That being said, such practices are not
regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience.
Q. I understand that all the Fridays of Lent are
days of abstinence from meat, but I'm not sure what is classified as meat. Does meat include chicken and dairy products?
A. Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only
from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs --- all of which live on
land. Birds are also considered meat. Abstinence
does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods
as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or
sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are
technically not forbidden. However,
moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all
animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs,
which do not have any meat taste). Fish
are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish,
amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded
animals) and shellfish are permitted.
Q. I've noticed that restaurants and grocery stores
advertise specials on expensive types of fish and seafood on Fridays during Lent. Some of my Catholic friends take advantage of
these deals, but somehow I don't feel right treating myself to the lobster
special on Fridays during Lent.
A. While fish, lobster and other shellfish are not
considered meat and can be consumed on days of abstinence, indulging in the
lavish buffet at your favorite seafood place sort of misses the point. Abstaining from meat and other indulgences
during Lent is a penitential practice. On the Fridays of Lent, we remember the
sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday and unite ourselves with that sacrifice
through abstinence and prayer.
Q. I understand that Catholics ages 18 to 59 should fast on Ash
Wednesday and on Good Friday, but what exactly are the rules for these
A. Fasting on these days means we can have only one
full, meatless meal. Some food can be
taken at the other regular meal times if necessary, but combined they should be
less than a full meal. Liquids are
allowed at any time, but no solid food should be consumed between meals.
Q. Are there
exemptions other than for age from the requirement to fast on Ash Wednesday and
A. Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside
the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals
suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant
or nursing women. In all cases, common
sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their
health by fasting.