Lent is coming soon so it's a good time to ask: Are Sundays a day off in Lent? I never heard about such a thing as a child but now, it seems like standard operating procedure. From the Sunday-free-day crowd, I heard that since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, fasting is not even appropriate. Well, what the heck? Were all those extra days of sacrifice unwarranted?
In my book, Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith and Get to Heaven, there is an entire chapter full of inspiration and ideas for Lent, so I needed to take a close look at what the Church actually says about Sundays in Lent.
We call it the “forty days” of Lent, harkening back to the time after Jesus was baptized and went into the desert to pray and fast in preparation for his public life. His death and resurrection saves us, but it does not mean we are all good to go now. If that were the case, St. Paul would not have said, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).
Even though we are saved by Jesus, we are all still a work in progress. Lent is about deep-down-to-the-soul improvement. The three pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting, and giving alms—is our most-likely-to-succeed approach. But getting back to the original question, should our soul-improvement plan include Sundays? That decision is actually ours to make.
The forty days of Lent is a bit of a metaphor rather than a literal count. Since 1970 in the Roman church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sunset on Holy Thursday. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “It might be more accurate to say that there is the ‘forty day fast within Lent.’ Historically, Lent has varied from one week, to three weeks, to the present configuration of 46 days. The forty day fast, however, has been more stable. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part the time of Lent, but they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence.”
But can we take a day off from our own fasting and sacrifices? Here is what the USCCB says: “Apart from the prescribed days of fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the days of abstinence every Friday of Lent, Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential practices for the whole time of Lent. These practices are disciplinary in nature and often more effective if they are continuous, i.e., kept on Sundays as well. That being said, such practices are not regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience.”
So technically, it’s our call. We are the boss of your own Lents.
Lent is the season to zero in on following Jesus who chose to suffer and die for us. If we suffer with Christ, we will also rise and be renewed in our faith on Easter as a prelude to life everlasting. Such a joyous description of Lent incites a greater desire to raise the bar and choose to be all in. But every sacrifice, big or small, needs the right attitude and a moment of reflection in which we engage our hearts and minds to connect our action to the love of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 13:13, we are told, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Before looking into this, I thought Sundays were free days. I guess I had the wrong definition of free. So now, back to the old days of going all in with a seamless Lent, giving more, but as the old saying goes: The more you give, the more you get.
For more inspiration check out Patti's latest book: Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Other books include: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the best-selling Amazing Grace Series.