Understanding Lenten Regulations and Practices

Understanding Lenten regulations and practices

Lent is associated with forms of penance such as fasting and abstaining from meat.  Those rigor of those practices has varied over time and among cultures. How can things like fasting and penance change? Because they are not ends in themselves.  The Catechism of the Catholic church, briefly but clearly states the tension within penitential practices.

Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. (CCC 1430)

In other words, external actions are meaningless, unless they are expressions of our faith and love, but it is also true that our growth in faith and love benefit from our owning and acting on them.  If we never act on those interior faith, does it really have meaning for us?  We all know that love and true thanksgiving are not the same as occasional gifts and statements of love, on the other hand to never have any expression of love is a sign that it may not be real.

By diminishing the number and severity of the rules, the church sought to make acts of penance more voluntary and therefore more effective.  In 1966, the U.S. bishops followed a change of law allowed by Pope Paul VI.  WE still follow those rules:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

In reducing the obligatory practices the recommended that past practices be continued voluntarily:

Self-imposed observance of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended. Abstinence from flesh meat on all Fridays of the year is especially recommended to individuals and the Catholic community as a whole.