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

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.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Sonjay

    I wouldn’t have a problem with the title of his article if they were smart enough to ask why ALL religions feel they need to sacrifice something at times. It just isn’t safe to CRITICIZE any religion involving a minority because there will always be a backlash justified or not. That is the true racism. I guess light means it’s alright…

    • Stands with a bible

      Weak minded individuals.

    • kevin the pompous

      Why does any zealot give up anything??? Pretty simple really, because each and every one of them ( read that as- any fairy tale believing simpleton) is a simple minded foolish sheep that is easily led and more easily misled…now you religous wack jobs can all go kill the ones that don’t follow your beliefs…..a simple understanding of history will prove this, throughout time…..

    • Stands with a cross

      Ahhhh, weak minded individuals?

  • bayeauxguy

    I understand that fasting is in the bible, the koran and many other religions but I just don’t see the point. That seems kind of symbolic to me and doesnt really help anyone.

    • michael

      Try it. Fasting is a way to pray with your body. each hunger pain strengthens your internal resolve, improves discipline and brings humanity into consciousness.

      • jackactionhero

        michael, they call that masochism, buddy…

      • politiciansSUX

        one other thing that was in the news yesterday, people that eat every other day have lower colesterol, a healthy body weight, and live longer with a much better blood pressure. so even if you are anti religion, you can fast for your own well being and leave that bacon cheesburger for the guy on the street corner.

    • politicianssux

      It teaches you to give up something, hopefully to the benefit of everyone. Say you drink a starbucks every morning, but it is fattening and expensive. Take the money and give it to the guy on the street corner. Now you are getting skiinier, you are breaking a bad habit, and the guy on the corner can go buy a starbucks, or lunch, or dinner, or call his family, or …. There is the angle of making it significant too. During lent I curb my hatred of all politicians. so when a politician starts a conversation with me, instead of telling them off and how stupid they are, I just politely smile and nod like I agree with everything they say. You can drive less aggressively, or stop for a stranded motorist, or, …. Jsut one more example fo living a better life (pay it forward).

  • Jonathan

    What Sonjay? I’m not quite sure what your point is. If your point was that this was unfair treatment of Catholics, I’m Catholic, and I loved this article. It gave some great explanations and history. And Fr. Mark is a pretty awesome guy.

    • insignificant

      No…no great explanations nor history in the article…a quick search will show you the roots,the history goes way farther back than the council of Nicea…poorly researched article…see below

    • insignificant

      No…no good exsplanations nor history…Lent goes far back before the councel of Nicea…see below

  • Jonathan

    bayeauxguy, one great reason to fast is that you learn self-control which is hugely lacking in the USA right now. If you eat whenever you are hungry, you get fat. If you sleep with whomever you feel like, you get HIV. Fasting helps you learn how to control yourself. In addition, whenever you are fasting, your mind is drawn to God as the fasting is difficult. Anything that puts your focus more on God is a good thing!

    • Gatormade

      Dumbest thing I have heard today.

      • ann

        I have to agree with you. The whole HIV thing I don’t get—I slept with whomever I wanted and no HIV.

    • Halim

      I like your causses of Fasting.

  • Mike

    I thought this article was about people who believe putting ashes on their foreheads somehow equated to significance, not a diatribe on how racially superior white people are.
    The USA is a very young and great country because it is inclusive to many different cultures that create the great melting pot. Your idea of America is what is destroying it and will surely be the recipe for the beginning of the end.

    • Journeyone

      Thank You!!!! His comments belong on another station on another planet

  • protestant a ya ya

    I gave up Lent for Lent. I do this every year. It’s a great sacrifice but I get through it.

  • Sue

    Great Story WCCO

  • insignificant

    As with many practices of the RRC having pagan roots…Lent is the Babylonian 40 day “Weeping for Tammuz” .This Tammuz was killed on a hunting accident by a wild boar,so at their pagan Easter(Ishtar,Tammuz’ mother) Sunday they eat the boar who killed Tammuz

    • What?

      I think you watch too much star trek.

      • insignificant

        @What?…look it up …Catholic holidays have pagan roots.Protestants cling to ’em too…Yes Lent IS weeping for Tammuz…Easter(Ishtar) is Babylonian fertility goddess, good grief rabbits ‘n’ eggs…and your Easter ham dinner IS eating of the boar who killed Tammuz..ever research anything?…by the way…the ash has significants also…you search it

        • Believer

          And, by golly – if info on the internet says so, then it MUST be true!

          What I know is that Jesus died for each and every one of us, yes ALL of us. He sacrificed everything. When I fast during lent, it is a small way for me to draw closer to Him – uniting my sacrifice with His. I know that when I celebrate Lent and Easter, I celebrate the amazing love He has for us all – even though so many reject him. (All of us do, in some way – when we commit even small sins)

          How do I know all this – because I know Him. He is available 24/7 to anyone who would also like to know Him. Note – not know about him, but KNOW him. Pray

          • kevin the pompous

            and do you feel the same about Santa Claus???? how simple you are.

      • Katty

        mikeandsimonec on September 4, 2011 I love that the poudrcts are all organic! I am a very green mom and love finding new poudrcts that go along with that!

    • insignificant

      so the answer would be…”they cling to ancient Babylonian customs “

  • The Crux of the Buscuit

    The Catholic church believes in human sacrifice (killing), eating of the deads flesh, drinking of the deads blood, plus the guys that run the thing wear dresses. And people willingly go there every Sunday. Go figure.

    • Tom

      @ The Crux of the Buscuit

      Promising to give something up for Lent is like promising to give up something for your New Years Resolution. But nobody actually does it!

    • HeSacrificed4u

      Crux, you’re an idiot. If you could only see yourself as everyone else does…

      • jackactionhero

        He’s an idiot because he doesn’t think what you think?

        If we’re calling a horse a horse here, I’d say the ones who do these ridiculous things and think your god gives a good rip are the idiots…

        No offense intended.

        • HeSacrificed4u

          You’re an idiot too. It’s not about you or me and espsecially not Crux. People are so self centered and selfish they have no clue what sacrifice means… It’s not what I think, it’s what GOD thinks of us. I’m talking to brick walls though.

  • The ANti-Lib

    Mike you’re just a religious or Catholic Bigot. I bet Global Warming is your Religion and Abortion is your Sacrament.

  • Mary

    No matter what the subject there are always idiots who have to go off the deep end and make a joke of it.

  • DJP

    Sure am glad that I am not Catholic…OR any religion for that matter!!!!!

    • Terrable Terry

      Me too

  • Ash face

    Would someone please come and bless my chocolate bunny. OH it’s not Easter yet.

  • Sue

    Neither the Feast of St. Joseph, nor the Annunciation are Holy Days of Obligation. This is a very superficial article.

  • maxey

    For the same reason they do a bunch of other goofy stuff: ’cause some real old Italian guys told them to.

  • Brett

    Just shows how LITTLE jason knows about Catholicism, or Minnesota history, even though he pretends to be some kind of expert.

  • Brett

    Here’s a “good question”: Why do so may people think that jason knows so much?

  • Brett

    Here’s a “good question”: Why do so many people think that jason knows so much?

  • Brett

    The fact is, is that Catholicism is under FULL ATTACK, and jason and his minions have no problem stoking the fire. It started with the sexual stuff, now it’s morphed into a full frontal assault. Acknowledging that you are CATHOLIC now is like getting tattooed with a SWASTIKA in you FOREHEAD. It is now considered to be more evil than being a member of Al Queda. Thank the feminists, thank the communists, thank the dopers. They all fall under this umbrella. It’s about neutering the HETEROSEXUAL, CHRISTIAN, DECENT, LAW-ABIDING, HARD-WORKING, DISCIPLINED, TAX-PAYING, AMERICAN-DEFENDING *MAN*. Pure and simple. Tear down you best protectors, don’t expect anything better from those who tore them down.

    • ann

      Take a deep breath– ok, now exhale–I hope you feel better now:)

  • thoughts...

    Well, I thought I would add, as someone else already has, that the Feast of St. Joseph and the Annunciation are not Holy Days of Obligation. As Catholics, we do not eat meat on Fridays because it is the day our Lord died and shed his blood for us. It is a form of penance and it “symbolizes a rejection of carnality.” We abstain from meat from an animal whose blood was shed on the day that Our Lord shed his blood. Fish is the exception. We can eat fish because of its “symbolic association with Christ” and the Holy Eucharist.

    In regards to Lent Sacrifices or giving up of things, people really do them. I know someone commented that they don’t, but most really do. Our Lord gave up his life for us, we can easily give up our chocolates, T.V. etc. for Him.

    As for the ashes – “In the Old Law, ashes were generally a symbolic expression of grief,mourning, or repentance. In the early Church the use of ashes had a like signification and with sack cloth formed part of the public penances.” Four ancient prayers are used in blessing the ashes as well as holy water. When the priest blesses the forehead, he says “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return”.

  • kathy

    I love when you wear your ‘Kromer” during your Good Question segments. My brother owns that company in Ironwood, MI. The hat looks good on you. Did you buy it or was it a gift? I hope you will continue to wear it.

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