Home Us bishops Let’s keep this Lent a secret // The Observer

Let’s keep this Lent a secret // The Observer


Next week will see the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. This means that for 40 days, not counting Sundays, the Church will enter its annual period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

So how are we going to join our brothers in this observance? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) sets out the five precepts of the Church, stating the “indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort” (CCC 2041). The fourth of these precepts says: “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church” (CCC 2043).

What are these days of fasting and abstinence? We turn to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which notes that “[a]abstinence from meat…must be observed every Friday, unless a solemnity falls on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting must be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday” (Canon 1251).

Wait … all Fridays? Like throughout the year?

Yes, Meatless Fridays are still widespread in many other countries around the world, but each national bishops’ conference “may further determine the observance of fasting and abstinence as well as substitute them for other forms of penance. , especially works of charity and exercise”. of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fasting”, according to the Code of Canon Law. And in its Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence in 1966, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops did just that, stating first that “the obligation both to fast and to abstain from meat … still binds Ash Wednesday and Good Friday” and “we have preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent”, but continuing to “emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the traditionally binding obligation under pain of sin regarding Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent.

While we the faithful are called, on Fridays outside Lent, to substitute “other penitential observances” if we decide not to abstain from meat, and more generally to understand that “Friday should be in each week some thing of what Lent is all year round,” it means that we Catholics in the United States have been excused from our obligation under canon law to abstain from meat every Friday of the year.

So, to sum up: We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and we are required to abstain from meat on Friday during Lent. All Catholics over the age of 14 must abstain from meat on appropriate days. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 60 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (Code of Canon Law 1252). All this is more or less simple.

But what about this personal devotional practice of “giving something for Lent”? Well, dear reader, allow me to dwell on my platform of the week: In a season whose spirit is that of penance, let’s not fall into the temptation of one-upmanship.

Here is the dilemma. Jesus tells us, quite emphatically, that when you fast you must “anoint your head and wash your face.” But how often do we tell others what we have given up for Lent?

Sometimes we don’t even want to do that. Take my Lenten experience two years ago as an example. I’ve decided to ditch all dark-colored soft drinks (call it soda if you like, cheat if you like), but as anyone who knows me knows how my food preferences and of drink are locked up, I opt for a drink other than a root beer or a variety of Cherry Coke was to arouse suspicion. Inquiries were raised, and I was thus compelled to reveal that I had renounced these things for Lent. I have “received my reward,” to end Christ’s exhortation. A piece of advice I probably need to take to myself too: Lent is not about proving ourselves to others.

But Lent is not about letting go of bad tendencies in our lives either. What? Scandalous! I hear your preliminary indignation, dear reader. But keep reading. Yes, it’s not the worst idea in the world to use Ash Wednesday as a stepping stone to bettering ourselves for the rest of our lives. Still, there are two pitfalls for the unwise to give up a bad habit (like gossip, negativity, or worse) for Lent.

Since Lent temporally ends at Easter, either (1) we succumb to the temptation to start this bad habit at the end of Lent, which really misses the point, or (2) we continue not to do that bad thing, which is great, but we really gave that bad thing away for good rather than just for Lent.

But worst of all, the concept of giving up something for Lent causes us to temper our collective joy too much when something great falls during Lent. All the social conventions surrounding whether someone who gave something for Lent should accept their exclusion from certain aspects of the collective celebration in the name of increasing their penance, or whether someone with a Lenten celebration should simply temper his celebration because it’s Lent, because make me groan in exasperation.

Perhaps the solution is to look at Jesus’ command to anoint our heads and wash our faces when we fast. My challenge to you this Lent is this: whatever you renounce, keep it a secret. Don’t tell anyone what you are doing or when you are doing it. And let’s banish the six-word phrase “I gave that up for Lent” from our collective vocabulary. If someone offers you the thing you gave up? Accept it, appreciate your community of people and let this indulgence, linked to your penance, make us grow in the love and service of God and each other.

Of course, don’t go looking for that sort of thing; which also misses the point. And none of that advice applies to the things we all do as a large Catholic community to commemorate Lent (fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, or abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent), because if someone asks why we do these things, it’s a critical evangelism opportunity. In these situations, we can explain that Christ suffered and died for our sins to free us from the bonds of death, so we unite our small penitential sufferings of Lent with His great ones. What is the difference? When we brag about our personal Lenten practices, we become like the people Jesus denounces for flaunting their fast. But we cannot claim any real credit for doing what the Church asks of us during Lent – ​​as the Catechism says, it is the “very necessary minimum”. May this Lent be filled with blessings and many secret penances!

Devin is a member of the Class of 2023 at Notre Dame Law School. A native of Farwell, Michigan, he graduated in 2020 from James Madison College at Michigan State University. In his spare time, he sings with the Notre Dame Folk Choir and discusses the day’s legal developments with anyone who will listen. Inquiries about its surplus of law journal articles and note ideas can be directed to [email protected] Where @DevinJHumphreys on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: American Catholicism, Ash Wednesday, Catechism, Catholic Doctrine, Catholic Teachings, Lent, Slow Sacrifice, Penance, personal choice