Why Do Catholics Give Things Up for Lent?

crosses on a mountain

Every year, for 40 days leading up to Holy Week and Easter, Christians choose to give something up. The term “Lent” has become synonymous with sacrifice, though it may seem a little random without context. Children and adults give up worldly pleasures like food and video games, as well as vices like drinking and gossip. Aside from the fact that everyone does it, let’s take a closer look at why people make sacrifices for Lent.

What is Lent?

Beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Thursday, Lent is a solemn religious period leading into the Easter holiday. This period of time is 40 days, not counting Sundays. The word “Lent” is derived from an old English word meaning “spring,” a season that typically begins during the time it is observed. After Holy Thursday comes Good Friday, where Christians honor Jesus for making the ultimate sacrifice. On Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. 

Why give things up for Lent?  

According to Matthew 4:2, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights’ in the wilderness. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Based on these verses, Christians decided Lent should be a time to sacrifice worldly things. During this time, the focus is on turning lives over to Jesus and giving up or turning away from sin, even if just for the 40 days. Giving up distractions demonstrates penance and solemnity leading up to Holy Week.

ash Wednesday forehead ashes

When did Christians start observing Lent?

In 325 C.E., the Council of Nicaea, the first meeting of its kind, gathered with representatives from all the major Christian sects. The members of this council formalized the Lent tradition. They started with very strict rules, like one meal a day in the evening for the entire 40 days. In the 1400s, Christians were allowed to eat by noon, and eventually, other foods like fish were allowed. In 1966, the Roman Catholic Church restricted fasting days to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Pope Gregory the Great created Ash Wednesday in the 600s, including the ash crosses on foreheads as a biblical symbol of repentance and a reminder of mortality. This day follows Fat Tuesday, the last day of eating rich/fatty foods before Lent.

How do we observe Lent today?

Some of the original Lent traditions have continued, especially in the Catholic church. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, healthy adults under age 60 still fast. Those aged 14 and older must abstain from eating meat on Friday to mirror Jesus’s fasting in the wilderness. Meat is defined as “land animals,” so eating fish is still allowed. This is because fish were the commonly available food in the areas where the Bible was written. The most well-known modern Lent tradition is giving something up. Christians will choose whatever is distracting them from worship and give it up for 40 days.

Other ways to observe Lent

Aside from giving something up for Lent, you can also observe the occasion through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Almsgiving is giving away superfluous goods, particularly to the needy. This could be an opportunity for decluttering and donating items that someone else may need. Another form of almsgiving is starting a virtue rather than giving up a vice. It’s a different way of looking at the sacrifice, but it still gets to the core, by allowing you to focus on your faith. However you choose to observe Lent, make sure you set an example for your child to follow. At Brevard Catholic schools, we believe that learning about faith starts at home. 

At Brevard Catholic schools we challenge students to be creative and critical thinkers who integrate faith, moral leadership, and compassionate service to make a better world. Through a low student-teacher ratio, classroom technology, and a variety of enrichment activities, we strive to inspire excellence in our students. Contact us to learn more!