Lent is perhaps most closely associated with dietary restrictions — abstinence on Fridays, fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Dietary restrictions are the Catholic Church’s way of helping us to fulfill the Lenten demand of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God.
The law of abstinence requires a Catholic, aged 14 years until death, to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl.
The law of fasting requires a Catholic, ages 18 – 59, to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals.
Those who are excused from fast or abstinence include those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, and pregnant or nursing women. People aged 60 and over, while technically excused from fasting, should consider it as a means of repentance, if health allows.
Aside from these minimum penitential requirements, Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely. Similarly, one could multiply the number of days that one fasted. The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church’s law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys.
Whatever is done for Lent — whether it’s fasting, prayer, or almsgiving/works of charity (the three traditional disciplines of Lent) — the point of our practices is that they lead us to repentance. Repentance, again, is turning away from sin and back to God. What is going to help you to do this? We, of course, are already in the midst of Lent; but we’re each allowed to make some “mid-course corrections.” What has been helpful on your journey back to God? What has not been helpful? What might be more helpful? Your answers to these questions will make Lent 2015 a great spiritual experience.