Abstinence During Lent

Q: Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence. What does this mean and what biblical basis is there for it?

A: A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years or older are required to abstain from eating meat (a food which has historically been symbolic of feasting and festivities because it could not be eaten every day in most historic cultures for economic reasons). By abstaining from this festive food on Fridays, we symbolize our sorrow for our sins on the day on which the Lord Jesus died because of our sins.

Under the current discipline in America, fish, eggs, milk products, and condiments or foods made using animal fat or meat are permitted for members of the Western Rite of the Church. Only the eating of meat itself (beef, poultry, pork, etc.) is forbidden. (However, all animal products are forbidden for members of the Eastern Rites; but, the requirement of abstinence is not mandated by law in those rites). Persons with special dietary needs can easily be dispensed by their pastor.

A biblical basis for abstaining from meat as a sign of penance for our sins is found in the book of Daniel, where the prophet mourns over the sins of Israel:

“In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . ‘I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.'” (Daniel 10:1-3)


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