I’ve been very amazed to see the amount of Catholics that haven’t been to mass in years yet still feel the need to give something up for Lent. I haven’t seen any official polls, but it seems that this group is even larger than the ones that go to mass on Ash Wednesday.
It seems that there is a general understanding that we are in need of salvation from our sins and freedom from our earthly attachments, but without the focus on a personal relationship with Jesus, it loses all hope and gets stuck in guilt.
Lenten sacrifices have an important role in Catholic life, but celebrating the Eucharist is still more important. Like I mentioned in my post about the 5 Misconceptions about Ash Wednesday, Canon Law does not require you give up something for Lent, but God’s law does require us to go to mass on Sundays. After all, it is the Lord’s day.
Seeking an understanding of the true meaning of the Lord’s day has also lead to some confusion about the role of Sundays in Lent. We moved the Sabbath to Sunday after the Resurrection of Jesus to celebrate the fulfillment of our salvation. It can be said that we celebrate it each and every Sunday as a Mini-Easter.
The confusing part comes in trying to understand the role of celebrating Sunday during our time in the desert of Lent. It has become an increasingly debated question – are Sundays included as part of our Lenten fasts if it is the Lord’s Day to celebrate?
I think there are two questions hidden within this one question, and they both deserve an answer.
Are Sundays Part of Lent?
I think the answer is found in the name of the Sundays, for example the First Sunday of Lent. Without a doubt, Sundays are part of Lent. The mass, the most important part of our faith, shows many obvious signs that things are different. In Lent, we don’t sing the Gloria or say Alleluia. In the Liturgy of the Hours, we refrain from the Te Deum.
Lent is our liturgical season of penance signaled also by our lack of flowers near the altar and the use of the color purple. Even though Sunday is the Lord’s day, we hold back and embrace the desert.
Can we have what we gave up for Lent on Sundays?
The first question is often implied, but this one is usually asked more directly. It is alarming how divisive and controversial this question has become, even among the same faithful communities. In this argument, there are two definite camps, and both sides agree that there is no middle ground.
The answer is that it is up to you, but let me explain this a little further.
3 Common Arguments
1. If you count the days from Ash Wednesday to the Easter Triduum, you get more than 40 days.
This is true, but it seems overly legalistic. Lent in Latin is “Quadragesima” meaning 40 days, but the meaning is more symbolic rather than a specific number. An example is the Holy Triduum that refers to 3 days, but it’s actually 4 calendar days.
The purple does not come down on Sundays and we still call it Lent. We do get two days when the priest uses white vestments and we celebrate Feasts outside of Lent – The feast of St Joseph and The Annunciation.
2. Sundays are all a celebration of Easter so we should celebrate them as such.
The mass would not be celebrated if Jesus had not already resurrected, and each Sunday is a celebration that He rose from the dead. Still, we don’t say “Alleluia” in Lent because it is a time when we are still preparing for the full celebration of the Resurrection in the season of Easter.
3. We should not fast when the bridegroom is present in the Eucharist on Sunday.
Jesus is present body, blood, soul and divinity in every particle of Eucharist, but there is mass more than just Sundays. In fact, we have it every day of Lent. Continuing a fast through a Lenten sacrifice does not ignore His presence, but continues to free us of our earthly attachments to be better prepared to celebrate the fullness of Easter.
How is it still up to us to decide?
Traditionally, the entire season of Lent, including Sundays, is a time of fasting, praying, and almsgiving.
Lenten sacrifices are part of the tradition of the church, but it is only a practice of devotion and not bound by Canon Law. This gives you the freedom to set the terms that would fit your needs best. This means that you can decide to give something up something Monday through Saturday. While I can see this argument, I wouldn’t recommend it.
You can choose to set the terms to take breaks on Sunday but please don’t try and mandate it for everyone or justify it as tradition.
If this makes it seem like Lent is difficult, then you are right, but then again, It was never meant to be easy. The beauty of Lent comes in the little deaths we overcome to ourselves, our pride, our attachments, and everything that keeps us from our Lord. Believe me, the sacrifice of Lent is worth the rewards of Easter.
I pray you have a blessed and fruitful rest of your Lent.