Saturday, February 28, 2009


The Great Chocolate Debate
It's an age-old question for people who are serious about keeping their Lenten resolutions: Does Sunday count? A few times each Lent people will consult me, the priest, with questions such as: "I gave up chocolate for Lent, but Sundays aren't Lent, right? So isn't it okay for me to eat chocolate on Sundays?" How have you answered this question for yourself? Does Lent extend in an unbroken line from Ash Wednesday to Easter, or is it a collection of forty discrete and separate days -- which does not include Sundays?

The reason for not counting the Sundays is that Christians never fast on Sunday; so in order to "fast and pray" with Christ for the symbolic forty days he spent in the desert (Mt. 4:1 ff.), the church adds a few days at the front to get to the proper number -- that's why Lent begins on a Wednesday, making it the only liturgical season that does not begin on a Sunday.

A Different Angle
Yes, if Lent is only about fasting, then Sunday is a "day off." But what if we take the original wider view, and see Lent as a time for a rich variety of practices in preparation for Easter? Then Sunday takes on a very different aspect. Listen to these questions: "Each day in Lent I'm spending fifteen minutes reading my bible, listening for what the Lord may want to say to me; but Sundays aren't Lent, right? So I don't read my scripture on Sundays." "During Lent I'm trying to be extra patient with my ageing father who I'm caring for; but Sundays aren't Lent, right? So that means…"

The Church treats the Sundays in Lent with special reverence, and has carefully chosen the mass readings and composed the orations to help enrich us and encourage us on the journey. Are Sundays part of Lent! They are like booster stations on the way to Easter, little foretastes and previews of the Sunday toward which the Pilgrim Church is heading. Take advantage of these special days, and use them as opportunities for extra prayer, deeds of charity, and almsgiving; let them give you ahead of time a taste of what Benedict calls "the joy of holy Easter."

My New Position on the Great Chocolate Debate
From someone who, I admit, has often eaten ice cream on Lenten Sundays in the past, here's one possible take on the Great Chocolate Debate. If I were on a long pilgrimage with a group, what would happen if I flew home each Saturday night and returned to the pilgrimage on Monday morning? Would I lose something of the continuity, say, or miss some of the feeling of mounting excitement as the group got closer to the destination? Maybe I won't fly home on Sundays this year.

How do you celebrate Sundays during Lent? Maybe you do something that others of us could try?


  1. Lent is not about a set of specific rules in a black and white setting. It's about the spirit of the season, so it's very gray in nature. When people look for ways to ever-so-slightly beat the rules, it seems as if he/she is missing the point of the season. As usual Father Al, you are stating this much more eloquently that I would have.

  2. This is different!
    Group travel on this pilgrimage certainly puts a different light on an individual's understanding of Lent (well, mine, at least!). Those of us who might be trying to give up smoking, say, or who are using Lent to diet, are not concerning themselves with the group. The question of flying home for Sunday, abandonning the group and interrupting the journey, puts us in a more significant position than the chocolate question, not only for ourselves but for the community. For me, this is a new way of thinking about Lent. Thanks.

  3. I think by taking Sundays off during Lent you are only fooling yourself. I mean come on it is only 40 days! What is the real reason behind giving something up? isn't it to be closer to God and make the sacrifice? Plus when I was younger I would take both Saturday and Sunday off. Usually Lent for me only lasted the first week!

  4. Remember, too, that the pre-Vatican II church was into measuring quantifying things (7 years indulgence for this aspiration, but only 2 for that one). This mind-set led some of us into "minimalism," giving rise to such questions as "Can I arrive at mass by the Offertory and still fulfill my Sunday obligation, or do I have to be there for the sermon?" "My wife and I always observe the Lenten regulations strictly. For example, we never eat meat on Fridays in Lent; we always go out for a luscious lobster dinner." According to this mind-set it makes perfect sense to ask "Can I eat candy on Sunday since technically it's not Lent?"

  5. Perhaps awareness of the communal dimension of our penance/sacrifice would be enhanced, and the temptation to look for loopholes in the commitment lessened if we took whatever we chose to another level: if you fast and feel hungry let that bring to mind (and prayer) the many people who are hungry at that moment and have no choice about it...starvation doesn't take Sundays off. If you are trying to give up smoking and wrestle with cravings and withdrawal let it connect you at heart level with all other addicts...the "recovering" in AA, the struggling in rehab, the ones who are losing everything to the power of the addiction. It's not just what we do but what we do with it that will make the difference I think.