Understanding Lenten abstinence: Why Catholics forego meat on Fridays until Easter

By giving up some comforts for 40 days during the Lenten season, the faithful are able to mimic Christ before celebrating his triumph over sin and death.

As Catholics around the world observe its holiest week— or Semana Santa in the Philippines—there may be some questions that still baffle many of us after all these years.

One of which might be, why do we have to fast during the Lenten season? Also, why do we abstain from eating meat every time Lent comes around?

We scoured reliable sources on the internet for answers.

Semana Santa is the most sacred of weeks for Catholics. Photo by Jacob Bentzinger from Unsplash

What is Lent?

According to Catholic.com, Lent is the 40 or so days before Easter in which Catholics pray, fast, contemplate, and engage in acts of spiritual self-discipline. 

Catholics do these things because Easter, which celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, is the most sacred day of the Christian year (yes, even more than Christmas) and these practices prepare the faithful for such a holy day.

To put things in perspective, the church calendar sorts of “reenacts” Christ’s life, starting from Advent to Easter. Advent is the season of anticipation leading up to the feast day of Christmas, while Lent is the season that precedes an even greater feast day: Easter, the day when Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

Lent is the 40 days before Easter in which Catholics engage in acts of spiritual self-discipline. Photo by Naassom Azevedo from Unsplash

Now, after Easter comes a 50-day “Easter Season” which culminates in the Pentecost. After that, Catholics have the so-called “Ordinary Time” (you hear this term when you hear mass), which lasts until Advent begins around the end of November.

Lent got its name from the Old English word len(c)ten, which means “spring season.”

How long is Lent?

Lent technically lasts for 46 days, which mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, praying, being tempted by Satan, before starting his public ministry. 

Jesus had gone to the desert to prepare his soul for an intense three-year period of healing people, preaching, and ministering, at the end of which he was crucified and died on a cross.

Lent mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry.Photo by Stefan Kunze from Unsplash

The concept behind Lent is that each year, Christians will imitate Jesus’ actions in the wilderness. By fasting, engaging oneself in spiritual discipline, and giving up some comforts for 40 days during the Lenten season, the faithful are able to mimic Christ before celebrating his triumph over sin and death.

By engaging oneself in self-examination and repentance, Catholic faithfuls are able to have a “renewal of the soul,” in anticipation of greater dedication to serving God and others.

Why should Catholics fast, abstain from eating meat?

Fasting also has biblical roots. Jesus Christ issued direct instructions on how one should fast, such as in the Gospel of Matthew where he expected his disciples to fast and told them how they should do it (Matthew 6:16-18). Catholics follow this pattern by holding a “partial fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”

Once Lent comes around, one might notice how some dining establishments would start offering their Lenten menu. Fish- or seafood- based dishes are highlighted, most popular of which is McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish which has gained popularity over the years. 

Fasting and abstinence have biblical roots. Photo by Kamil Szumotalski from Unsplash

Abstinence from certain foods is also a biblical discipline just like fasting. In the Book of Daniel 10:2-3 there was this verse: “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” 

Catholics use a practice similar to Daniel’s when, as a way of commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion on a Friday, they abstain from eating meat on that day of the week during Lent.

The only kind of meat that is allowed to be consumed on Black Friday is fish, which is a symbol of Christ.

Associate Editor

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