Why do Catholics observe fasting during Lent?

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Answered by: Nicole, An Expert in the Holy Days and Religious Holidays Category
Lent is a solemn season in the Catholic liturgical calendar. It is a time of reflection and sacrifice that prepares Catholics to observe the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and celebrate His resurrection at Easter. In addition to abstaining from meat each Friday during Lent, Catholics are required to observe fasting during Lent on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, all Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday unless health concerns prevent it. Pregnant women, for example, can be exempt from fasting, since they need to eat to care for themselves and their babies. The Catholic Church allows one full meal on fast days, as well as two smaller meals, as long as the two smaller meals are smaller than one full meal. Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as a form of sacrifice during Lent.

Refraining from normal meals on fast days reminds Catholics of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This keeps Catholics' minds and hearts focused on why Lent is observed in preparation for Easter Sunday. These are the only two days in the liturgical calendar that are required days for fasting.

Fasting is also a form of penance. Catholics are encouraged to do penance to make reparation to God for sins. Observing fast days during Lent is a way for Catholics to acknowledge their sins and do penance for them. Some Catholics find that fasting is a more effective form of penance than specific prayers because the physical effects of fasting serves as a tangible reminder of why they are fasting.

Some Catholics fast during Lent beyond the two required days. Catholics are asked to make a personal sacrifice during the Lenten season to strengthen their individual faith. Many people use this opportunity to get rid of a bad habit, such as gossiping, but others choose to observe more regular fasting during Lent as a personal sacrifice or personal penance.

Catholics who choose to fast as personal sacrifice during Lent set their own parameters for the fasting. They may choose to fast on Fridays during Lent to align with the Catholic Church's instructions to abstain from meat, or they may choose to fast during the entire Lenten season. Each person must decide individually how to fast as a personal sacrifice. Fasting should be undertaken as seriously as any other sacrifice during Lent.

While Lent is the most common time Catholics use for fasting, there are people who fast during other times in the liturgical calendar, as well. Just as during Lent, fasting during other times in the Catholic calendar is a form of personal sacrifice or personal penance meant to strengthen individual faith. Outside of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, using fasting as part of the daily living of a person's Catholic faith is a personal issue that should be discussed with a priest or spiritual mentor to ensure it is done safely.

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