The season of Lent has been observed and followed by Catholics since the 4th century of the Catholic church. Lent lasts 40 days, not including Sundays, and is traditionally known as a time of penance and sacrifice for Catholics. During this time, Catholics are expected to adhere closely to the rules of fasting and abstinence, both of which are believed to bring them closer to God.
Fasting is defined as going without food. Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday, which represents the beginning of Lent, and on Good Friday, which is the Friday before Easter Sunday. On these two days, Catholics are expected to eat only one full meal per day, with fasting in between meals. This also means that if a Catholic should choose to eat at other times of the day on these days, he cannot eat enough to total another meal. For instance, if the full meal chosen is lunch, he can have a small snack at breakfast and a small snack in the evening, but these snacks cannot add up to one full meal. Consuming alcoholic beverages during Lent is permitted, but is frowned upon. Alcohol is considered an indulgence that does not sit well with the penitent spirit of Lent.
Catholics define abstinence as not consuming meat. Meat, in this case, is considered to be only the flesh and organs of mammals and birds. The Catholic church practices abstinence on Ash Wednesday and on every Friday during the season of Lent. On these days, some Catholics are permitted to consume foods made from meat juices, such as soups, gravies and condiments. Seafood is permitted during all 40 days of Lent, as are other animal products, such as eggs, milk and foods made from animal fat.
Purposes of Fasting and Abstinence
Fasting during Lent is said to purify thoughts and feelings and prepare Catholics for prayer. By fasting, Catholics facilitate hunger, which is said to bring a heightened sense of awareness and closer connection to God. Abstinence is considered a form of sacrifice, which is a recurring tradition during Lent. Abstaining from meat is said to honour the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday.
There are some Catholics who are exempt from the rules of fasting and abstinence during Lent. Any Catholic under the age of 18, or older than 59, is not expected to abide by the rules of fasting. Also exempt are any Catholics with significant health impairments or conditions with pre-existing diet restrictions, such as diabetics.