To Give or Give Up? That is the Lenten Question…

Christianity religious symbols, cross and book

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent for Catholics and other Christians.

It was the first of 40 days of  fasting and repentance.

But today is Valentine’s Day and when this day of love falls during the season of sacrifice, it poses a problem for some people.  According to what I was taught, Lent is about sacrifice, abstinence from pleasures and moderation.  But Valentine’s Day is about giving – jewelry, flowers, chocolate, food, wine….love. As you can see, these are quite the opposite of what we are supposed to observe during Lent.

According to, Lent is:

(in the Christian religion) an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain other churches.

Typically, people give up sweets or chocolate or snacking between meals.

If you do observe Lent, you might be asking yourself these questions…Should I eat my chocolates even though I gave it up for Lent?  Should I indulge in that ice cream brownie dessert after dinner if I’ve give up all sweets?  Am I allowed to have dessert during Lent?  If I eat the chocolates later this afternoon, is that snacking?  Aren’t we supposed to fast between meals? Or is it all day? Can I cheat on Sundays? Does abstinence really mean abstinence from ALL pleasures?  HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!

The practices of Lent have changed drastically over the years.

Here is a brief history of Lent from my Catholic family’s experiences:

My parents are the same age, but one grew up in New York and the other in New Jersey.  When my father was a child, it was a sin to eat meat ANY Friday during the entire year. He was told it was a  mortal sin (one that could lead to a person going to hell).  My mom was told it was a venial (minor) sin, but still it was a sin. No meat on Fridays ever. This was during the 1940’s – 1960’s.

When I was a child in the 70’s and 80’s you were not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent and we also gave something up for the full 40 days.  In the 90’s when I was a young adult, I used to give up chocolate for the 40 days and twice I gave up drinking. That was a huge sacrifice when I was in my 20’s.  I was the designated driver every week and saw a whole different view of “going out.” But I did it and I was pretty proud. Which I think is actually a sin.

Then, in the early 90’s and early 2000’s, I heard from my students who were in CCD that their priest said they were allowed to cheat on Sundays during Lent. It was a “free day” to indulge in whatever they gave up. I was really surprised.  This was quite different from what  I had been told and I kind of felt that it was cheating.  Why wouldn’t the sacrifice last the entire 40 days? When did that change?  Was the priest just being nice to the kids?  Did that apply to adults as well?

At mass one Sunday a few years ago,  a priest said that it was more important to do things for others than to make a sacrifice during Lent.  He said Lent was a time of service and that we should be devoting our time to helping others and doing good deeds. Maybe we could volunteer, offer to help  neighbor.

While I think we are supposed to be helping those in need anyway, I am wondering if we are still supposed to give something up.  And, if Jesus sacrificed his life for us, aren’t we supposed to make a sacrifice for him? I was very confused.  I am still confused.

One thing is for sure though. Not eating meat on Fridays during Lent is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  It was something made up by the Church.  From what I heard, the fishing industry in Rome was doing poorly and that the Catholic Church created the “no eating meat on Fridays” rule to help them out.  If people did not eat meat, they would eat fish. Today, in America, it’s the pizza parlors that profiting from this rule.

So, for the next 39 days, should we give or give up?  Is Lent about service or sacrifice?  I really have no answers.  I do know that I cannot seem to understand or keep up with the ever-changing rules of the church.  However, I will continue to try and live a good life and be a good person. That is one teaching that hasn’t changed.  And one I can follow without question.

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