For Roman Catholics and a number of other Christian denominations, the Lenten season is a period of reflection and sacrifice, where individuals contemplate what they will give up for the next 40 days in anticipation of Easter. It is a solemn time that marks one of the six seasons of the Catholic liturgical calendar.
Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on February 14, inaugurates the beginning of Lent, calling all to renew their commitment to divine love and seek reconciliation through the grace of the Lord Jesus, as stated by the Most Rev. Richard Henning, bishop of the Providence Diocese.
Lent extends for 40 days, requiring abstinence and penitence, culminating in Easter on March 31. However, there are a total of 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, with the six Sundays not counted in the 40-day period, as per the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Lenten season reflects the biblical account of Jesus spending 40 days in prayer and fasting in the desert following his baptism, where he resisted temptations before beginning his public ministry in Galilee. Fasting and abstinence as forms of repentance and drawing nearer to the divine are evident throughout the Bible, with figures like Moses fasting for 40 days to seek forgiveness for his people.
While Catholics are known for their observance of Lent, fasting is a practice not exclusive to them, as many religions incorporate it into their faith. Lent beckons Christians to share in the suffering of Christ, symbolized by sacrificing something dear to them during this period as a form of fasting, aligning with Jesus’ own sacrifices.
Historically, Catholics were mandated to abstain from meat on Fridays as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday. Although Vatican II relaxed this rule in 1966, the obligation to avoid meat on Fridays during Lent, as well as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, remains intact for Catholics.
The pastoral statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasizes the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays, underlining the importance of this penitential practice for all Catholic Christians. According to William Johnston, an associate professor at the University of Dayton, the abstinence from meat extends to land animals while allowing consumption of fish and dairy products.
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