This is a brief explanation of this popular Catholic Lenten practice. As we all know, Lent is a time to give up something for the 40 days. What we should give up could be a type of food, such as chocolate or coffee, or a habit a person wants to stop, such as excessive smoking. Whatever it may be, Catholics instinctively associate the need to abstain from a particular thing with Lent.
Why is it like that?
Lent is a period to accompany Jesus into the desert, imitating his example of prayer and fasting. As St. Luke explains how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil, His regimen was quite rigorous in the wilderness. According to (Luke 4:1-2), Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.
Keeping in mind the act of Jesus fasting (though realizing most humans can’t abstain from all food for 40 days), ever since the 5th century a wide variety of Lenten sacrifices have been practiced. According to historian Socrates, the early Church, Christians from various regions maintained different sacrifices.
Some Christians abstain from every sort of creature that has life, while others of all the living creatures eat only fish. Others eat birds as well as fish because it was obtained from Mosaic account of the Creation, others abstain from fruit covered by a hard shell and from eggs. Some people eat dry bread only.
It was the custom of many centuries to eat a single meal a day in the evening, with both meat and wine forbidden during the entire 40 days.
Though, the regulation of fasting has changed over the centuries, allowing greater freedom for personal choice when it comes to Lenten sacrifices.
The Roman Rite Church in the United States has currently dictated fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence on all the other Fridays during Lent, for those who are obligated. Any other sacrifice that an individual engages in falls under the realm of personal choice and should correspond to a person’s abilities and state in life.
Giving up something for Lent is a strong way to imitate the sacrifices of Jesus in the desert and to unite our heart with his own in prayer. As Catholics are technically not obliged to make such a sacrifice, the Church is always encouraging the faithful to do something so as to enter into the penitential spirit of Lent more deeply.
By making some sacrifices as such, we remind ourselves that we are not made for life on this earth, but we are called to something greater. It is left to us to make good use of our time and to find ways to pay our attention to God. As thus, choosing the narrow road that leads to eternal life.