Why Catholics Observe Lent Uniquely

Last week on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, Catholics in Uganda, even around the world, observed Ash Wednesday which according to the Christian Calendar, always marks the beginning of a holy period of the year known as LENT.

The season of Lent is a Catholic liturgical season consisting of forty days of fasting, prayer, and repentance, beginning at Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Thursday.

It is the consecrated period of sacrifice leading up to Jesus’ death and Resurrection. During Lent, Catholics prepare for Holy Week by fasting, praying, and reconciling with the Lord. These forty days are a wonderful time to rethink everything and to allow ourselves to take up our crosses as Christ once did.

Why Catholics Observe Lent

According to the Catholic Church, the three traditional pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Catholics are also taught as children to “give up something” for Lent. The sacrifices in Lent are really penance, in the same spirit as the Ninehvites that repented at the preaching of Prophet Jonah.

What Constitutes A Typical Catholic Lent

Fasting: According to Msgr. Richard Kayondo of Lugazi Diocese, while deliberating on the subject, fasting is one of the most ancient practices linked to Lent. The early Church fasted intensely for two days before the celebration of the Easter Vigil. This fast was later extended and became a 40-day period of fasting leading up to Easter.

Fasting is more than a means of developing self-control. It is often an aid to prayer, as the pains of hunger remind us of our hunger for God.

The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday to the 59th 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 and by drinks which could be considered food [milk shakes, but not milk]. Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; instead, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

Who Should Miss Fasting

Those who are excused from fast are those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Why Catholics Fast Specific “Things”

Aside from the minimum penitential requirements, Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they fast.

According to Stephen Lule Ssaalogo, a catechist in Our Lady Consolata, Bweyogerere Parish, some people give up meat entirely for religious motives. “And,” he underscores, “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. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys – chocolate, soft drinks, smoking, that cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the individual.

This is why during this season; Catholics tend to skip a meal or a few in a week, like breakfast or lunch. In addition to Fridays, Wednesdays which are traditional days of fasting, Catholics may skip salt on their food, fast from soda, skip the beer or other alcoholic drinks.

Others don’t eat between meals and this sounds easy, but rather hard to fulfill. You’ll find it’s quite hard since most of us snack frequently and don’t even realize it.

Some Catholics consider including things other than food. For example, fasting from all technology one day a week, fast [one main meal with two small snacks] one day a week, and drink only water.

According to Msgr. Kayondo, Catholics fast like this because no deprivation should seriously hinder the people from carrying out their work, as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.

However, lent also includes abstinence. Abstinence from certain foods is a biblical discipline that is at the very apex of Catholic Lent. In Daniel 10:2-3, the prophet testified that, “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 flesh they eat on Friday is fish.

The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age 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.

Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal-derived products such as butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste.

Catholics are however admonished never be satisfied with the bare minimum. We should seek to constantly pursue a deeper conversion and build on that foundation to include fasting in other ways throughout the lent season.

Lent Is Also For Changing Lives For The Better

The prophet Isaiah insists that fasting without changing our behavior is not pleasing to God. “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:6-7).

Therefore, even for Ssaalongo Lule, fasting should be linked to our concern for those who are poor, those who suffer from the injustices of our communities, and those who are in need for any reason.

“Thus fasting, too, is linked to living out our baptismal promises. By our Baptism, we are charged with the responsibility of showing Christ’s love to the world, especially to those in need. Fasting can help us realize the suffering that so many people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to greater efforts to alleviate that suffering,” he said.

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