People were amazed, but Jesus immediately went away by himself into the desert. There he fasted and prayed, and while he was there, Satan appeared to him three times, tempting him.
Jesus stayed in the desert for 40 days. When he left the desert, he began calling his disciples and apostles, as the mission that led to his crucifixion had begun.
The Church says that Lent is a 40-day period of unity with “the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
By sacrificing small things, as well as fasting, praying, and giving to charity, Catholics are invited to experience a period of prayer like the one Jesus experienced, and to prepare themselves to resist Satan’s temptation, and fulfill the mission God has given the Church.
Lent comes before Easter, and is a preparation for that feast, which is one of the most important in the Church’s life.
Cool. So, I can’t eat meat then?
During the Fridays of Lent, Roman Catholics are to abstain from meat, in union with the fasting of Jesus, and in memory of Christ’s death on a Friday. Fish is not considered meat for these purposes, nor are some other kinds of aquatic creatures in certain places- alligator is ok in Louisiana, and, curiously, muskrat is allowed in some parts of Michigan!
Generally speaking, products derived from animals, like broth or gelatin, are not considered to violate the rule of abstinence- this is because the point is to make a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ, not to become consumed with parsing ingredient lists for animal byproducts.
The point, really, is for the Fridays of Lent to be days of simplicity and even a bit of hunger- while seafood is allowed, a butter-soaked lobster probably misses that point.
All Catholics age 14 and older are expected to abstain from meat, although those who can’t do so for health reasons, along with pregnant and nursing women, are obviously exempted.
I have heard the Fridays of Lent referred to as “days of abstinence.” Usually when the Church talks about abstinence…
This is a surprisingly common question. When the Church talks about abstinence in this context, she is referring to abstention from eating meat.
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What about fasting? When do I fast? And what do I do?
The two required days of fasting during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are also days of abstinence. All Roman Catholics who are 18 but not yet 59 are required to both fast and abstain from meat on those days.
In 1966, Pope St. Paul VI said that the Church’s “law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening.” This is often taken to mean that the most Catholics should eat on a day of fasting is one normal sized meal--with no meat--and two smaller snacks.
Those who wish for a more intense fast are not prohibited from more fasting, but this is generally a good idea to discuss with a spiritual director, confessor, or pastor.
Wait-- so I’m 60, and my grandson is 17. Does that mean we don’t have to fast?
That’s correct. You are not required by canon law to fast- though you are still bound by the law of abstinence. This means that whether to fast should be a matter for your discernment, perhaps with some guidance from your pastor or confessor.