Lent began originally as an intense preparation of prayer and fasting preceding baptism at the Easter Vigil. Eventually the entire Church joined in this period of preparation, renewing one’s baptismal vows and expressing the need for constant conversion.

If you want to know what Lent was like originally, ironically we can look to Ramadan, which arose as an imitation of the ancient Lenten fast. Christians did not eat during the day at all and avoided all animal products, oil, and wine. Lent changed over the centuries, but avoiding animal products continued in the West until the modern period (and continues in the East today) and included at least a daily, partial fast (and more days of complete fasting) until just after the Second Vatican Council.

Lent is a period of fasting. The two mandatory days of fasting during Lent would be a laughing stock to any other Christian generation.  In addition to these two days, we are required to abstain from meat on Fridays (which is also Canon Law’s default penance for every Friday of the entire year) and are encouraged to undertake another penance. This extra penance can guide us to deeper conversion, but can also be trite if we only give up something extra in our life.

I would encourage everyone to consider some form of daily fasting (Monday through Saturday) during the entirety of Lent. Here are a few ways to undertake this fast, which I think would be reasonable. I would recommend starting with just one or two of these options for this year.

  1. Do not eat between meals. This may be the best option as it requires constant discipline, but also should not prove too difficult or taxing.
  2. Do not eat any sweets, including sweetened drinks.
  3. Do not eat meat (if not daily, then at least more days than just Friday).
  4. Just have bread and water for one of your daily meals.
  5. Give up alcohol.

Why is daily fasting important? It demonstrates the seriousness of the Lenten fast and serves as a daily reminder of the need for prayer and penance in Lent. It will also add power to our prayer and help us to break bad habits. Jesus told His disciples when they could not expel a demon: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). If we add fasting, we may find our prayer to be more efficacious.

Lent provides us a crucial opportunity to grow closer to God and to take a step back from the world. Make the most of it by doing some kind of fast, even if small, every day!

  • PlanetJuggler

    Thank you for noting that we’re supposed to be abstaining for meat on ALL Fridays, not just those in Lent. So few Catholics have ever heard that.

    When a co-worker notices that I’m not ordering a burger at Friday lunch or I suggest someplace other than a steakhouse, they first ask “are you a vegetarian/vegan?” When I say, “no, I’m Catholic so I don’t eat meat on Fridays”, there’s usually another Catholic in the group who pipes up with “but it’s not Lent!” I then have the opportunity to explain this particular Canon Law to them – that we are supposed to either abstain from meat OR do some other penance each week (during Lent, the abstinence is mandatory).

    Somehow, this usually puts me into the category of “good Catholic”, “strict Catholic”, or “radical Catholic”. (Imagine if they saw my bumper stickers!) Unfortunately, this usually elicits a reaction (usually from a fallen-away/non-practicing Catholic) akin to “that’s laws and traditions of men, not God” or “well, I doubt God’s gonna send me to hell for eating meat on a Friday.”

    Anyone else experience this scenario or hear these reactions to the Friday fast? If so, how do you respond (i.e., that doesn’t come off as holier-than-thou or – the “cardinal sin” of our culture – “judgmental”)?

    • tallorder

      Explain the reason. A meal with meat requires the slaughtering of an animal. Since Christ was crucified on a Friday, we do not spill blood, eg. eat meat, in honor of Christ’s spilling of his blood for us.
      Nothing haughty about that; and you don’t need to go into canon law with protestants.