Not very long ago, the Lenten Fast observed by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians was a rigorous one. While Orthodox Christians have held to this tradition of voluntary self-denial, Roman Catholics by and large—especially in first-world nations—have abandoned such ascetic practices. Rather than give you my opinion about this change, I would rather pose a simple question: Why?
Live with that for a moment. Why? Why do we abstain from meat only on Fridays and Ash Wednesday? Why do we eat eggs, drink milk, and fry our foods in butter through these weeks of penitence? Why do we drink hot chocolate and wine?
There is nothing wrong with it. The bishopric has told us that there is nothing wrong with this. We can choose what to give up for the six weeks of Lent. Many would argue that giving up the internet or gossiping or some other time-guzzling practice or bad habit would be more beneficial than giving up food. I might tend to agree. But, why not maintain the fast anyway?
It’s just a question, no agenda, no ulterior motives. You might have perfectly good reasons for choosing not to fast through all 40 days of Lent. That is perfectly alright. I just thought it was worth asking.
I asked myself this question last year, after following Emily’s Lenten journey at Charming the Birds from the Trees. I know from past personal experiences that my prayer life is sharper and my resolve to follow Christ stronger during times of intentional, prolonged fasting. I want that this year as I prepare to celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord.
So, this year, my family will be following a form of the old Catholic Lenten regulations. For those who are interested, here’s what we’ll be doing:
- We’ll be eating pseudo-vegan, except for the kids who will get milk to drink and dairy in their snacks. We’ll be giving up meat, eggs and all dairy, but we will still eat fish and other seafood. (What’s Lent without fish for a Catholic, right?)
- Brian and I will be giving up all alcohol for the duration of Lent, except on certain feast days and Sundays (which are always celebrated as a day of feasting).
- We will be giving up all desserts and sweets, apart from fruit.
- Apart from designated fast days (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday), we will not reduce the portion sizes of our regular meals, and we’ll continue to snack on healthy foods if we’re hungry between meals.
In addition to fasting from food, we are also starting to think about what habits or practices we would like to abstain from through the season. Ideally, they will be things that normally steal our time (so that we can devote more of it to prayer), distract us from following Christ more closely, or otherwise hinder our walks with the Lord.
Sometimes what we give up for Lent is simply a sacrifice, united to that of Christ. Sometimes, it has the power to transform the way we live. Either way, it is an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and a demonstration of our love for him.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17
What will you be giving up this Lent?