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Good Question: Why Do Catholics Give Up Things For Lent?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On Ash Wednesday, many Christians get more than ashes on their foreheads: they get a sense of responsibility to give something up. It’s a tradition especially strong in the Catholic Church. So, why do Catholics give things up for Lent, and why don’t they eat meat on Fridays?

I’m giving up “probably the most cliché answer you can think of: chocolates. How else will I fit in my bikini?” said Tanja via a Tout video.

“It’s probably gonna be really hard, but I’m gonna try my best,” said Kathryn in her video

Catholics who go to church, and the ones who show up twice a year, are all talking about what they’re giving up.

Leah Zins tweeted, jokingly, “I should give up the internet for lent but I would probably die.”

“It’s like reminiscent to Jesus in the bible when he went to the desert, to a desert place. An idea of these 40 days of Lent being a chance to go to a desert place,” said Fr. Mark Pavlik, Pastor of Saint Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis.

“Don’t tell people to give up TV,” said WCCO’s Jason DeRusha.

“Oh I wouldn’t ever, especially not ‘CCO. That’s a good question,” Pavlik laughed.

The concept of fasting shows up in the Bible, the Torah and the Koran. The idea of sacrificing something else just during Lent has evolved, and doesn’t have to be just giving something up.

“You can make the decision during Lent to do something beneficial, because the bottom line has to be: How’s it benefiting my spiritual life?” said Pavlik.

The Council of Nicea first put “40 days of Lent” in writing in 325. But the no-meat on Friday business didn’t become Lent-only until 1966.

“Prior to Vatican II, Catholics ate fish every Friday, all year round,” said Pavlik.

In 604, Pope St. Gregory wrote a rule that said Catholics will abstain from flesh and meat.

Unlike a frequently repeated myth, scholars don’t believe that the idea was to prop up the business of local fisherman. It’s just that fish wasn’t thought of as a red-meat.

“It was giving up meat as a delicacy. To say, you know what, meat was a nice food to have. So, it was giving up a fancy food,” said Pavlik.

Lent is 40 days, but if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, it’s 46. That’s because Sundays don’t count, and in fact, technically, you don’t have to continue your sacrifice on that day.

“Every Sunday is a little Easter, so you shouldn’t fast on Sunday,” said Pavlik.

Also, depending on the calendar, there are two other possible “freebie” days during Lent for Catholics: the feast of St. Joseph and the Annunciation. This year St. Joseph’s day is on March 19, and the Annunciation is March 25.

As Holy Days of Obligation, you are obliged to go to church, but you are not obliged to continue your fast.

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