Catholics in Pakistan
Beliefs And Teachings

Some Basic Questions | What is Lent? Fast and Abstinence

Suzanna Joseph

Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting and growing in charity, begins every year on Ash Wednesday. It is an opportunity to curb our desires which, if neglected, lead us to sin.

According to the Catholic Church we are prone to two types of sins: eternal sins are those which will never be forgiven by God and temporal sins are the ones that temporarily inflict us, even if all our sins are forgiven in the Confession.

Every Catholic, even after the Sacrament of Penance, must do penance in order to satisfy God’s justice for the temporal punishment due to sin.

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Before death a person must be restored to grace otherwise, he will be punished forever in hell. Since, serious sin is an infinite insult to an All-Holy and Eternal God, and thus deserves a like punishment.

It was to repair for such sin that Jesus became man and was crucified. Christ paid the price for our sins before God-a dept we cannot pay since we are mere mortals.

Christ made amends for our mortal sins, which were infinitely beyond our power. However, He did not relieve our obligation to repair what we have done. So, there is a need to make reparation.

We can make amends for our sins by humbly accepting and persevering in our sufferings, hardships, daily trials and above all by death. We have an impulse to do this or that and we often let those impulses or desires control us. Therefore, the church has established that we at least do penance on certain days throughout the year.

The norms on fasting are obligatory. However, if you have any doubts it is always advisable to be governed in this matter by the decision of the Priest. Let us ponder on some frequently asked questions during Lent:

What is fasting?
Fasting is a form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food or drink.

What is abstinence?
Abstinence refers to refraining from certain kinds of food or drink

What is the law of fasting?
1 regular meatless meal and 2 small meatless collations which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Also there should be no snacking between meals.

What is the law of abstinence?
No meat that is flesh and organs of mammals and fowls. Fish and shellfish are allowed.

When to fast?
Ash Wednesday and Friday of Passion of Our Lord

When to abstain?
All Fridays through the year and the time of lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

Who should fast and abstain?
Catholics who are 14 years old until death are bound to practice the law of abstinence. Catholics who are 18-59 years old are bound to practice the law of fasting.

On what basis does the Catholic Church have the authority to establish days of fast and abstinence?
On the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus told the leaders of His Church, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, 18:18).

What happens if one has not fully expiated his sins before dying?
Such a person, before going to heaven, would have to expiate his sins in Purgatory.

Who are exempted from fasting and abstinence?
Those who are outside the age limit;
The sick and the infirm (e.g., diabetic person, the bedridden and immobile);
Those suffering from mental health illness;
Pregnant or nursing women;
Those who are suffering from extreme poverty;
Manual laborers;
Employees whose jobs require them to be attentive (e.g., policemen, doctors and nurses on duty;
Those, who, through travelling working or stopping away from home, have scarcely anything else at the time to eat.
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.

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