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Are Sundays part of Lent? And a few other fast facts about the season

Here are some facts you might now know!

Here are some fast facts about Ash Wednesday and Lent you might not know. 

Here are some answers to common questions about Lent.

Here are some answers to common questions about Lent.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
2/15/2018 (2 years ago)

Published in Lent / Easter

Keywords: Ash Wednesday, Lent, fast facts, season

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Are Sundays part of Lent? Can I wash these ashes off my head already? And who is expected to fast? What is fasting anyway?

These are common questions about Lent, fortunately, we have the answers. 

1. Are Sundays part of Lent? 

NO, SUNDAYS ARE NOT PART OF LENT. (Typed in all caps for my pious relatives to read.)

Many Catholics maintain their sacrifice on Sundays. There is no rule against this, but it isn't required. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter and should be celebrated as such. In the spirit of celebration, which is entirely appropriate, you may refrain from your sacrifice on that day. So, if your sacrifice is social media, then you can catch up on Sundays. If you gave up chocolate or sodas, Sundays are your friend. There are no brownie points for maintaining your sacrifice on extra days and there are no demerits for refraining from your sacrifice on Sundays. Sunday is a day of celebration, not fasting. 

2. Speaking of Sacrifices, is it okay to give up something like chocolate or soda? 

These are acceptable sacrifices, but we should strive to give up something that fits our age and circumstances. A teenager may give up soda, and that's a decent sacrifice. But what if they give up social media? That might be a better sacrifice. For an adult, merely giving up chocolate might be going too easy on yourself. 

Only you can judge your sacrifice, but here's a thought: Vatican Almoner, Archbishop Knorad Krajewski suggested that sacrifices should cost you. In other words, your sacrifice should be substantial so that you feel it. It should have an impact on your day, week, or season. Passing on doughnuts in the breakroom doesn't have a tremendous impact on your day. Giving your lunch money to someone in need or to a good cause, however, definitely costs you, because you end up hungry for lunch! That sounds like a terrible proposition, but this is precisely what transforms people. This is what makes the difference between an ordinary soul and a saint. Remember, sainthood is our goal! Keep that in mind when choosing your sacrifice. And if you've already declared merely chocolate to be your sacrifice, well, keep in mind we live in a world where we are free to change our minds. You can change your mind and do something different, and you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself and God. 

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3. Do we always have to give something up? 

No. My preferred form of Lenten sacrifice is to take on the duties and chores of others. It's fantastic, and sometimes it doesn't even feel like a sacrifice. When I do the laundry or take the kids' turn at the dishes, I can think about my faith, while I work. I literally meditate at the sink as I wash, rinse, and load. The same as I sweep, mop, vacuum and so on. By devoting that time to family and God, I feel rewarded as a result. It's certainly a sacrifice. I miss television or I miss time online or sitting idle doing whatever I might rather do, but I don't hate it at all. I enjoy the added bonus of gratitude from my family. 

We can choose to take on extra duties to help others. For some of us, time is worth more than money and is a greater sacrifice. Just make sure whatever you do, you do with a right, prayerful intention. 

4. Do I have to go to Mass today?

No, Ash Wednesday isn't a holy day of obligation, but try telling that to your mother and getting away with it. Ash Wednesday is one of the most attended days in the Church, for reasons that remain unclear. Some Catholics mistake it for a day of obligation and go. Others are motivated by guilt for past behavior, and many are seeking a fresh start. A few attend because everyone else is doing it, and a small minority just want to advertise their Catholicism by wearing ashes all day. 

We aren't called to judge any of these people, and what brings others to Mass is nobody's business but their own
. We should, however, examine our motivation for going. Yes, it is good and important to attend, even if it is not required. We should attend Mass with the best intentions. 

Mass is powerful, it can transform us and change our lives. We don't attend Mass merely because the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Such a miracle would be worthless if it did nothing for us. But the miracle of transubstantiation does change us. It fills us with grace, and grace is what makes us saints. We should be attending Mass so we too can become better people --so we can become saints!

If for some reason you feel called out and worry that your motivation could be misplaced, there's no problem. Simply rethink your motivation and change your mind. There's nothing stopping us from becoming saints but our own choices. 


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5. Can I wash these ashes off already?

Yes, you can. There is no rule you must keep the ashes on all day. However, many people keep them on as a gesture of humility. It's up to you and your situation. If you have to go to work, you may choose to keep them or not, depending on the nature of your workplace. For example, a person in an office might be okay with them but for a person in a restaurant or in a place where cleanliness is essential might not be able to keep them. It isn't a sin to remove them after Mass. 

Of course, there are some who keep them to advertise their faithfulness. That's questionable motivation, but again, it isn't our business. 

Customarily, many Catholics go home and stay home after receiving their ashes. They do not go out to lunch or dinner at a nice seafood restaurant with ashes on their head. But alas, some do. 

Whether you keep your ashes or remove them, make sure your intentions are pious and sincere. 

6. Do I have to fast?

The Church asks all people over the age of 14 to fast, particularly on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent. This is a flexible rule and can be adjusted based on individual maturity, for example, younger people often fast too. The elderly and the sick and infirm are exempt when health could be compromised by fasting. Fasting is obligatory for anyone 18 to age 59. Some people fast all 40 days of Lent. This is fine practice, just make sure you are still getting the nutrition your body needs. For the record, Ash Wednesdays and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting. Fasting on Fridays is technically optional. But abstinence is required on Fridays. 

7. What does it mean to fast? 

From 14-17 it just means no meat. Fish is an acceptable substitute. From 18-59, it means no meat, and eating no more than one full meal per day, and two smaller meals that equal one full meal when combined. So, it means two half-meals and one full meal, all without meat. Note, fasting and abstinence are often confused. 

8. What is abstinence? 

In this case, abstinence refers to meat. However, many Catholics also refrain from other activities which confer pleasure on these days, particularly intimate marital relations. 

9. Why are we doing all this?

The purpose of Lent is spiritual renewal. Think of it as spiritual spring cleaning. Over the past year, we inevitably allow our hearts and minds to become cluttered with the concerns of daily life. The hustle and bustle, the daily grind, and so on. It is natural for us to focus on what is right before us. In the process, we forget that we should be concerned with the life to come, which is going to last forever! Lent gives us an opportunity to refocus ourselves on what is important with the mutual support of everyone around us in the Church. It's good practice that helps keep us on track. 


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As a benefit, Lent often helps people become better versions of themselves. That's a big deal, and one that makes all the sacrifice and the effort worthwhile. Please support and love one another during this time. Forgive others. And above all, forgive yourself, seek reconciliation, and refresh your love for God, your neighbors, and yourself.

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