12 March 2016

Seven reasons to feast during Lent (SQT)

Linking up with This Ain't The Lyceum.

It's pretty common knowledge that Catholics "give stuff up for Lent." Sweets, alcohol, gossip, broccoli... everyone has something they've given up in order to (hopefully) draw closer to God. Our family does meatless Wednesdays as well as Fridays, along with some other personal sacrifices.

As Matt and I were talking the other day, the question of "what for Lent entails, exactly" came up, and it's an interesting one. Does sacrificing something for Lent mean it's completely gone for the whole span from Ash Wednesday through the end of the Triduum (which is technically not Lent, but definitely a penitential season anyway)? Or are there exceptions, and if so what are they?

It turns out that this can be a surprisingly heated question; many people I've talked to who favor or oppose marking certain days and times in Lent by taking a break from their voluntary sacrifices seem to feel very strongly indeed that their way is best, or even the only correct position to take. We lean more toward the position that if "how to Lent" hasn't been set in stone, well, it's not set in stone. Given that stance, this should be obvious, but just in case, I'm not telling anyone that they're doing Lent wrong! Unless they're eating meat on run-of-the-mill Lenten Fridays without a dispensation, I suppose. But in the Shifflerhaus, and with our understanding of Lenten sacrifices, we do make a point of celebrating these days even during Lent:

Birthdays. So far, Matt's the only one with a Lenten birthday; the latest date possible for Easter to occur is April 25, and Alex's birthdate is April 26, so her birthday will never quite fall during Lent. But we do celebrate Matt's birthday despite its always being in Lent, complete with a meal of his choosing and his favorite brownies. (I should note that we as a family have not explicitly given up dessert; I focus on making "simple" food, so not making desserts has been a natural extension of that, but if someone gives us cookies they're fair game for after supper. His requested supper, burgundy meatballs, is definitely not what I would consider "simple," though, so having brownies was not the only thing that marked the day as different and celebratory.) 

Name days. (Otherwise known as the feast of your patron saint.) In our house, name days are a big deal. Goodness knows I badger all of our patron saints for prayers and help on a regular basis; the least I can do is celebrate their feast days! We read about the saints, maybe read something by the saint of the day, see if I can find a coloring page to print off... And like with birthdays, we let the one celebrating their nameday pick out supper, and dessert is likely to appear. For Kit's nameday last week we didn't have anything particularly special, since she's little and wouldn't have understood, plus Matt was out of town and "fancy" just wasn't happening, but Little Bear was happy to pick one of his favorite suppers to celebrate for his sister. Octopus pancake it was.

Baptismal days. If the day you're born makes the list of "days worthy of celebrating," the day you're reborn through Baptism should definitely count too. It's arguably a more important day, even! Same basic drill: we talk and read about the sacrament of Baptism and make a specially-requested supper, with a strong possibility of dessert. 

St Joseph. The feast day of St Joseph, March 19, is a Solemnity. A capital-S solemnity means it's a really big deal, a celebratory, no-fasting, meat-eating-even-if-it's-a-Lenten-Friday sort of big deal. 
"Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (Can. 1251)."
So, we celebrate it. 

Annunciation. Well, usually; because March 25 (the Annunciation—exactly nine months before Christmas) happens to be Good Friday this year, observance of the Annunciation had to be bumped all the way to April 4; they couldn't just move it to the week after Easter, because each of the seven days following Easter Sunday (the "octave of Easter") is a Solemnity in its own right. The Annunciation is a Solemnity as well, so even when it falls during Lent (as it usually does), we celebrate it as such. With waffles.

Laetare Sunday. The fourth Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, "Rejoice" in Latin. The name comes from Isaiah 66:10, "Rejoice, O Jerusalem..." which is the Introit for the day. When we hit Laetare Sunday we're halfway through Lent, and everything starts hurrying along toward Easter: next comes Passion Sunday, then Palm Sunday, and we're already into Holy Week! So the Church marks Laetare Sunday as a day of rejoicing that Easter is in sight; a ways off yet, but we've crossed the turning point. 

Sundays in general. This one might be the most controversial; the two opposing views as I understand them (and please, if you interpret them differently, share your position!) are A) Lent is Lent, and taking breaks from your sacrifices every week is cheating and is opposed to the spirit of Lent, vs. B) every Sunday is a "little Easter," a commemoration of the Resurrection, and it's thus inappropriate to fast (c.f. Matt 9:15). We agree with the latter view, and do not treat the Sundays of Lent as penitential days.

Edited to clarify: The "no meat on Fridays of Lent" is a hard-and-fast rule, so birthdays, name days, and baptismal days don't overrule that. Solemnities, though, do. We have meatless birthday, etc. celebrations if they fall on Fridays, but meat for supper on solemnities regardless of what day it is.

Agree? Disagree? Did I forget something? What days, if any, do you count as exceptions to your Lenten observances?


  1. We do pretty similarly to you--though in our nuclear family we don't have any birthdays, baptism days, OR name days falling in Lent thus far! So it basically works out to eating sweets on Sundays and meat and sweets on solemnities. As our son gets older (he's barely 2 now) I'll probably try to work in more "read a story about St. Joseph while we eat our red-colored dessert" stuff.

    1. Celebrating feast days became so much more fun when Little Bear was old enough to start understanding! I hope your little guy enjoys it, too. And I had forgotten about red being the color for St Joseph's feast day—thank you! I need to figure out what we are doing for his feast day on Saturday.

  2. I want to get better about celebrating our patron saints' feast days as well as baptismal anniversaries. I don't even know when we were both baptized at this point! Although I'm quite sure neither day falls during Lent. This year I am planning sloppy joes for St. Joseph's feast day! And will be taking Joey what he wants for dessert :-)

    Thanks for clarifying which days can supercede a meatless Friday! I have never been quite sure about birthdays. My brothers both have frequently-Lenten birthdays-- one is usually right around ash Wednesday and the other has had a number of good Friday birthdays :-/

    1. He gets a solemnity for his name day! Lucky guy :-) Sloppy joes sound like a great idea!

      One of my sisters has had a fair number of Ash Wednesday birthdays, too. Did your family move the birthday celebrations so they didn't fall on fast days?

    2. It's been a long time since I've been home for Lent/Easter, but I think it was kind of a mix. If it was Good Friday we would still give him cards and he wouldn't have to do chores or schoolwork, but we would save food and cake celebrations for another time. Not sure about presents. Probably some similar arrangement for ash Wednesday. Regular Lenten Fridays may have given way to birthday celebrations, however.

  3. We do basically what you do. We do give up desserts for Lent, so having some for birthdays and solemnity is a big deal. We don't break it on Sunday, because typically we only have dessert on Saturday, and having it ON Sunday would be transferring the dessert, not really fasting from it. Other things we do on a case by case. But we do try to make our decision before Lent.

    1. Having already laid out "how Lent works" for your family before Lent starts is a good idea, especially with kids! I know that for us it helps to be able to reiterate that "this is just how we do it" instead of making individual decisions all the way through.