Nearly 25 percent of all Americans practice Lent in some way every year, according to Lifeway Research. But the rules and tradition of the 40-day period of Christian preparation observed before Easter varies from person to person and specific religious affiliation. One of those areas of difference concerns breaking Lent on Sundays: Is that acceptable?
Breaking Lent on Sundays is acceptable for Catholics since Catholics don’t have a fasting or abstinence obligation on any Sunday. Protestants allow even more flexibility for Lent than Catholics, so they can pause on Sundays if desired. Only Orthodox and traditionalists seem to keep Lent on Sundays.
Considering a third of the world’s population is Christian (making it the world’s largest religion), Lent is something that affects many. In this article I will explore the practice of ‘pausing’ Lent on Sundays from differing perspectives (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and even non-religious), keeping in mind, my own Catholic viewpoint, of course.
I’ll also look at the nature of the Lenten fast and foods that are permissible during Lent and on the paused Sundays of Lent, as well as when it’s acceptable to break the Lenten fast.
What Is The Term For Lenten Sundays?
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday. The total length of Lent time is actually 46 days even though it’s known as a 40-day period. This is because there are only 40 days of active Lenten practice.
The Church doesn’t traditionally count the 6 Sundays of Lent as part of the Lenten fast.
The 6 Sundays of Lent have special names. The names differ from the Ambrosial Rite (Latin Catholic liturgical Western Rite) to the Eastern Orthodox to the Mozarabic Rite. As the Lord’s Day, Sundays during Lent are special since they generally represent a new part of Lent and pause Lenten fasting.
Listed below are the names of the individual Sundays according to the Eastern Orthodox and the Extraordinary Form of Mass (The Extraordinary Form of Mass is also commonly called The Latin Mass).
Eastern Orthodox (mainly in the Balkans, the Middle East, and former Soviet countries):
- The first Sunday is the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
- The second Sunday is the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.
- The third Sunday is the ‘Sunday of the Holy Cross’.
- The fourth Sunday is the ‘Sunday of St. John Climacus’.
- The fifth Sunday is the ‘Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt’.
- The sixth Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is part of ‘Holy Week’ and is considered separate from Lent.
The Great and Holy Pascha is ‘Resurrection Sunday’ or Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Extraordinary Form of Mass (also called ‘The Latin Mass’):
- The first Sunday of Lent is Quadragesima Sunday or Invocavit Sunday
- The Second Sunday of Lent is Reminiscere Sunday
- The third Sunday of Lent is Oculi Sunday
- The fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday or ‘Mothering Sunday’. People also call it Refreshment Sunday because the feasting on this day is slightly more than others. It is a day to return to the church parish where you received your baptismal sacrament (i.e. ‘mother church’.)
- The fifth Sunday of Lent is Passion Sunday, Judica Sunday, or Carling Sunday. In Northern England, people eat cakes of carlings (brown peas.) A bit of silly trivia: Schoolchildren call the day after Carling Sunday, ‘Farting Monday’, because of the effects of the peas. Hah!
- Sixth Sunday of Lent: Palm Sunday or Dominica in Palmis. Another name for it is “Fig Sunday” because Christ wanted to eat figs after his entry into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday Mass is coincidentally one of the long Masses of the year, if not the longest (Easter Vigil is traditionally the longest since it’s around 3 hours in length) because of the extra Gospel reading, Palm procession, and blessing of the palms.
On Mothering Sunday, besides attending your baptismal church, some people traditionally place flowers such as these red artificial long-stem roses (from Amazon), to represent her suffering, at a statue of Queen Mary. White roses like these are also popular since they are a symbol of Mother Mary’s virtue.
Other holiday articles you might enjoy:
- Is Breaking Lent Okay Or Is It A Bad Thing? (Catholic View)
- Is Giving Up Meat For Lent Required? Catholic VS Protestant
- Is Palm Sunday Mass Longer Than Other Masses? (Revealed)
Can You Eat Meat On Sundays During Lent?
Concerning the foods that are permitted during the Lenten fast, the requirements of abstinence and fasting come into play. You can even use this time to try more vegetarian dishes, like found in this popular Vegan Cookbook called Forks Over Knives at Amazon.
You can eat meat on Sundays during Lent if Catholic or Protestant. Catholics only abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays of Lent while Protestants have no official meat restrictions. Orthodox Christians are stricter and abstain from meat everyday of Lent including the Lord’s Day, Sunday.
Keep in mind that while abstinence prohibits the eating of meat, but you can still eat fish, other seafood, eggs, condiments made from meat, and milk products for the most part (this is an exception in the Orthodox, however).
In most circuits, fasting involves eating only one meal a day, or two small meals a day in order to maintain strength. There are some allowances to add two small snacks as long as when combined they don’t equal the size of a typical meal.
It is important to note that while some people abstain for the required days only, others choose to fast all of Lent. But that’s a choice.
In Catholicism, the two days of required abstinence from meat and fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these two days, you can’t eat meat nor do you eat more than one meal. Some people elect to fast every Wednesday and Friday of the Lenten weeks, too. But Catholics are obligated to abstain from meat every Friday of Lent.
The purpose of fasting is to identify with Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness. Apart from the food fast, you can also decide to fast from certain pleasures (e.g., TV shows, hot showers, coffee, etc.) This voluntary sacrifice is neither mandated nor regulated by the Church.
For some traditional Catholics like my family, we abstain from meat every Friday of the year. Thus, we add a different fast for our Fridays because a meat-fast is not really a penance if you do it regularly anyway. In this case, we might forgo desserts on Friday or alcohol/sodas. Or we might restrict our meat-free to include seafood, too.
The Lenten Sundays are still feast days like every other Sunday.
It is forbidden to fast on feast days. This means that you can eat meat! In fact, it’s expected to keep it holy and honor the Lord’s Day so fasting is not reverent.
However, we should not gorge on Sunday during Lent. Be prudent and mindful that it’s still Lenten season. If you have given up a type of food or activity for the Lenten season, don’t overindulge on Sundays.
What Does It Mean To Break Lent On Sundays?
Breaking Lent on Sundays means to pause your Lenten practice on the Lord’s Day, whatever that might be. Whether you decided to fast foods like sweets or alcohol, or fast other things like movies or social media, during Lent, you can feel free to enjoy those things on Lenten Sundays.
Common foods people fast during Lent:
- Salty things
- Fast food or restaurant foods
Common non-food fasts during Lent:
- Social media
- Watching tv programs for pleasure
- Frivolous shopping
- Wearing makeup/coloring hair
- Men shaving
It’s important to remember that other than the days of obligation, most other Lenten fasts are optional and elective. This means you decide what and how much to do.
For non-religious, Lent has become a self-help trend, similar to New Year’s Resolutions. However, this is not the same for those who religiously observe and in some ways, is considered appropriation.
It’s not to say non-religious can’t do a practice of penance or sacrifice, but most religious would prefer they do so in another way or vein and not call it ‘Lent’. Some non-religious take on traditional Lenten practices like abstaining from meat and fasting indulgent foods while others might take breaks from social media, too.
Some also choose to do more mindful practices like meditation and exercise, similar to how the religious offer special prayers and adoration during Lent. They may also do works of charity like the Catholics do ‘alms-giving.’
Similarly then, non-religious may opt for small breaks or pauses during their Lent, but as it’s entirely voluntary and has no real significance other than ‘self’, they can easily break their fast, which is addressed more fully in the next section.
When Can You Break Your Lenten Fast?
While many may find the 40 (or 46) days of Lent difficult, there are some things to keep in mind about Lent. It is actually possible to break Lent without penance. So when can you break Lent, then?
You can break your Lenten fast at the end of the 40-days, on Sundays during Lent, and if you’re ill or Lent seems harmful for your situation. Remember most Lenten fasting is voluntary, so you decide what, when, and how much to fast outside of the few required days, including when to break Lent.
If you break your fast during the other days of Lent (on days not obligated, that is), you do not have to wallow in your guilt and feel condemned. And of course, if you are observing Lent as a non-religious person, then you have no reason to feel guilty either.
Though we’re often apt to feel like failures when we don’t meet our goals, that’s not what Lent is about anyway. It’s about doing things to bring us closer to Jesus.
And if you break Lent on days of obligation, it’s not necessary or helpful to wallow in guilt, either. Rather, make a good confession to a priest (you are obligated to confess at least once during Lent anyway!) and then move on to finishing Lent as best you can!
When does Lent End?
When you are forgoing certain pleasures to focus on what Easter truly means, 40 days might seem like an eternity. Take courage though because, like all things, even Lent ends.
Even though everybody has a 40-day Lent time, different denominations designate different days for the start and end of Lent.
Western Churches start Lent on Ash Wednesday and end approximately six weeks later on Easter Sunday. Eastern Churches (Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Lutheran) begin on ‘Clean Monday’ and end on Holy Saturday before Easter. And Eastern Orthodox do not pause Lent on Lenten Sundays.
Lent is a season of giving up comforts to reflect on yourself and on the significance of Easter. Fasting, giving alms, and prayer are the 3 main practices of Lent. Their purpose is to bring you closer to God and to show you your need for total dependence on Him.
If you decide to observe Lent, do not focus on the smallest details of what you can and cannot do. Instead, turn your full attention on the cross and Jesus’ grace extended in His sacrifice for you.
Wrapping Up Breaking Lent On Sundays
To wrap up, it is generally accepted to pause or break Lent on Sundays. Other than Orthodox Christians who keep Lent everyday including abstaining from meat, most others do not fast or abstain on the Lord’s Day (aka Sunday) during Lent.
Catholics and Protestants are free to decide what and when to fast during Lent (except on a few specified days for Catholics). And non-religious who elect to ‘try Lent’ should feel no obligation to continue if they don’t want to.
So I hope this information is useful for you come next Lent, and I hope you have a blessed Lent!
I think you’ll enjoy these related holiday articles next: