The penitential season of Lent calls all of us to acts of repentance through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Since Lent retains its ancient penitential character, the faithful should be reminded to make the entire Lenten season a period of special observance through the three practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
In order to help you explain how this is conveyed through the law that has been handed on to the church, below you will find an outline of regulations regarding the Lenten season.
Pastors are reminded that Ash Wednesday is celebrated March 6. Ashes are to be distributed on that day either during the celebration of the Mass or at a celebration of only the Liturgy of the Word. One cannot anticipate Ash Wednesday by the distribution of ashes Tuesday evening, nor can one distribute ashes during the Sunday Masses on the First Sunday of Lent. This norm is to be interpreted strictly.
1. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. The Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence in the United States.
2. The obligation of abstinence (refraining from eating meat) begins at age 14. The law of fasting (limiting oneself to one full meal and two lighter meals) obliges all between the ages of 18-59. No one should consider this obligation lightly.
3. Those individuals who have a medical condition in which fasting may be considered harmful are not obliged to fast, but should perform some other act of penance or charity.
4. Pastors and parents are to see to it that minors, though not bound by the law of fast and abstinence, are educated in the authentic sense of penance and encouraged to do acts of penance suitable to their age.
5. All members of the Christian faithful are encouraged to do acts of penance and charity during the Lenten season beyond what is prescribed by the law.
6. As a general rule, a request for a dispensation from the obligation of abstinence on Fridays of Lent will not be considered unless some serious reason is present. The attendance at social events, banquets, wedding rehearsals or receptions, or funeral wakes are not considered sufficient reason to request a dispensation.
Father Kunz is diocesan vicar for canonical services.