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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: Should We Fast on Sundays?

By February 29, 2008

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A reader writes:

Regarding what we give up for Lent, I am hearing two stories. First story: Of the 40 days of Lent, we do not observe Sundays; therefore, on this day and this day only, we do not have to observe Lent by what we have given up--i.e., if we gave up smoking, this is a day on which we can smoke.

Second story: Through the whole duration of Lent, including Sundays, up to Easter we should observe Lent thoroughly, including all that we have given up during Lent. It comes to more than 40 days if we include the Sundays, which is where I think the confusion comes into play.

Can you clarify?

I'm happy to do so! You've put your finger on the point of confusion. Everybody knows that there are supposed to be 40 days in Lent, and yet, if we count the days from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday (inclusive), we come up with 46 days. So how do we explain the discrepancy?

The answer is that all of those 46 days are within Lent, yet not all of them are of Lent, in the sense that they are supposed to be days of fasting and penance. In the past, Christians observed Lent by imitating Christ's 40 days in the desert. As He fasted for 40 days, so did they. (See "Reader Question: Observing Lent Before Vatican II.") Today, the Church only requires Western Catholics to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

From the very earliest days, the Church has declared that Sunday, the day of Christ's Resurrection, is always a feast day, and therefore fasting is forbidden. Since there are six Sundays within Lent, we have to subtract them from the days of fasting. Forty-six minus six is forty.

That's why, in the West, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday--to allow a full 40 days of fasting before Easter Sunday.

Unlike earlier generations of Christians, most of us don't actually fast every day during Lent, in the sense of reducing the amount of food we eat and not eating between meals. Still, when we give something up for Lent, that's a form of fasting. Therefore, that cannot be binding on the Sundays within Lent.

Does that mean that you should go out of your way on Sundays to indulge in whatever you gave up for Lent? Of course not. But in the same manner, you should not actively avoid it (assuming that it is something good that you've deprived yourself of, rather than something that you shouldn't do or consume anyway). To do so would be fasting, and that's forbidden on Sundays--even during Lent.

You can find out more in How Are the 40 Days of Lent Calculated?

If you have a question that you would like to have featured in our "Reader Questions" series, send me an e-mail. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

FAQs About Lent:

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Comments
March 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm
(1) Ricky Jones says:

Isn’t Sunday the day of the resurrection, and for that reason we don’t fast? As I remember the Jews fasted on wednesdays and before the sabbath. But we as Christians fast on fridays for the death of Jesus and we celebrate his resurrection on Sunday, right?

March 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm
(2) JC says:

i know lent to be from ASH WONESDAY to PALM SUNDAY ie the 40days of lent
The week that follows the 40days is called THE HOLY WEEK,Thur, is called the MONDY or HOLY THUR, then the Good friday,holy sat and EASTHER SUNDAY!.
I was told that we dont fast on sunday because sunday is the day of the Lord’s ressuration.
In like manner, we fast from meat every friday of the year b/cos that is the day that the Lord paid for our redemtion by His death on the cross.

March 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm
(3) jc says:

i want to continue say that not fasting on sunday doesnt mean that our lenten observances and mortifications will not be kept on sundays it is still part of lent

March 21, 2010 at 5:56 pm
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

JC, what you know is wrong. :) Lent goes from Ash Wednesday through noon on Holy Saturday (46 days), minus the Sundays (6 days) for a total of 40 days. In the West, Holy Week is part of Lent.

March 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm
(5) Vcm says:

This helped sooo much. Thank you all :]

November 28, 2011 at 12:33 am
(6) Richard says:

I learned a lot about the observance of fasting (Lent) from this article. Fasting is a useful practice for all Christians. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We observe the practice of fasting in a couple of ways. 1: We are asked to fast for two meals on the first Sunday of each month, and 2: we are encouraged to fast for special circumstances, such as when someone is sick and we’re praying for their health or when we are seeking revelation. Fasting is very practical even without religious conviction. When coupled with faith, it is a powerful concept.

February 26, 2012 at 1:06 am
(7) mahima nathaniel says:

i was in a confusion whether 40 days fast should be kept on sunday or not,,,,but ur answer hd helped me in finding the answer of my question…..
God bless u my dear frnds….&
happy easter….

February 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm
(8) Ruth says:

Lent ends on Holy Thursday. Not Holy Saturday as the article states. Words from the priest at my church on Saturday evening….And Easter is decided each year like this: It is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox in the new year.

February 28, 2012 at 6:04 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Ruth, what your priest said is correct, speaking liturgically; but the season of Lent does run from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday, inclusive. That’s why the Lenten fast, when it was observed more strictly, ran from Ash Wednesday through noon on Holy Saturday. This article is discussing the fast, not the liturgical cycle.

You can read more about the distinction here: When Does Lent End?

And you can read more about the traditional Lenten fast here: Reader Question: Observing Lent Before Vatican II.

March 7, 2014 at 1:03 pm
(10) Deacon Mike Caldwell says:

We do not fast on Sundays during Lent. Would omitting the Allehuia and Gloria on Sundays during Lent be considered fasting?

March 10, 2014 at 11:58 am
(11) Justin says:

Hey Scott,
I tend to agree with you on this matter, but do you mind referring to a couple of authoritative documents to help me come to a more concrete conclusion? This would help me tremendously, both in practice and to win an argument :) haha. Thanks!

March 11, 2014 at 8:37 am
(12) Richard Martin says:

Lent ends April 17 this year that is 43 days. Holy Triduum then begins and the ends is 3 days and then Easter begins. Your explanation is not right.

March 11, 2014 at 8:58 am
(13) Scott P. Richert says:

Mr. Martin, as explained above, Lent as a liturgical season ends before the start of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, and has since 1956. Before that, the liturgical season of Lent and Lent as a fasting period were coextensive.

The change in the liturgical season did not change the penitential or fasting period of Lent, which still ends, as it always has, on Holy Saturday. That is why the Church Herself continues to speak of the 40 days of Lent, not as some sort of metaphor but as a reality.

March 11, 2014 at 11:53 am
(14) Richard Martin says:

Ok. I’m trying to follow this. Lent is really 43 or 46 days (if you are counting Holy Triduum). This does mean that all the Sundays are counted in this penitential season, right? That means that lent is not 40 days. I have never seen anywhere that says that our penance and fasting is suppose to end every Sunday. We are not to pray alleluia on Sunday during lent. This is a form of mortification in prepairing for His resurrection. We are still suppose to prepare our selves for the resurrection even on the Sundays of lent. I due feel a little confused now, could you point to any type of church documentation or some sort of spiritual writing on this subject. I would greatly appreciate that because I teach my kids that we practice penance and mortification even on Sundays. God bless

March 12, 2014 at 2:15 pm
(15) Scott P. Richert says:

Richard, your wish is my command. You’ll find what you need in <a href=”http://catholicism.about.com/od/lent/fl/The-40-Days-of-Lent.htm”>The 40 Days of Lent: A Short History of the Lenten Fast</a>. Let me know if you have any questions that that document does not answer.

March 14, 2014 at 12:21 am
(16) Skevon says:

So basically I can eat what I want…in moderation of course. On Sundays? I didn’t know that. I gave up social media (IG…FB). So I can look at them on Sunday? Not that I feel the need to but should I? Some people got me confused.

March 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm
(17) Bob M says:

This is great information, and I really appreciate the reference link above.

One further clarification request. Since Sundays are exempt from Lenten fasting, is that interpreted as midnight to midnight, sundown to sundown, evening prayers to evening prayers, or something else? It does make a difference, and I’ve never seen it discussed….

Thanks!

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