What Happens When You Break Lent And Fail? (Explained)

Since a third of the world is Christian, many people practice Lent each year (Lent is a preparatory period for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending after 40 days) by praying, alms-giving, and fasting. Yet, as often happens when we set goals, we fail. So what happens when you break Lent and fail?

What happens when you break Lent depends upon your religion affiliation and reason for observing Lent. While Catholics must go to confession after intentionally breaking Lent, it’s not considered a sin by Protestants. Regardless, it’s beneficial for anyone to do a reflection upon breaking Lent.

In this article, I will discuss the purpose of Lent, its practices, and if it is a sin to break Lent, from my own Catholic viewpoint but also from non-Catholic perspectives.

I will also look at the concept of giving up something for Lent and the groups of people who are exempt from fasting and abstaining during the Lenten period.


Is It A Sin To Break Lent For Catholics and Non-Catholics? 

To be perfectly honest, one of the hardest things I’ve tried is giving up ‘worry’ for Lent. I found this book on Amazon about that very thing because as I learned firsthand, giving up worry, anxiety, and perfectionist tendencies can be more daunting than not eating dessert for 40 days! But is it a sin to break Lent by worrying, or eating chocolate?

It is a sin to break Lent for Catholics. Catholics are obligated to fast and abstain certain days, plus fast, pray, and give alms on other days of Lent (in their own way), so breaking Lent requires confession to be absolved. For non-Catholics, while breaking Lent is not a sin, it’s not beneficial.

Keep in mind that though there is no biblical instruction to fast during Lent, the Catholic Church must follow the Magisterium as well as the Bible. The Magisterium is God-ordained to provide rules for Catholics, and does so via the Catechism and Canon Law. Being Catholic then, means to follow Lent.

However, Protestants don’t follow Canon Law and historical foundations of Christianity. Thus, using only biblical instruction, they voluntarily do Lent (since Lent technically isn’t in the Bible).

How one takes part in Lent is a matter of doctrinal and denominational stance.

So to put it clearly, ‘black and white’, breaking Lent for Catholics is a sin while Protestants don’t view breaking Lent as sinful.

There are even some who do Lent for non-religious reasons and so in that case, of course, it’s not a sin in their eyes to break Lent.

But is breaking Lent good for you, well, that’s another thing altogether, outside of sin.

It may seem like forty days feels like an impossibly long time to fast from your favorite foods and swear words (or Facebook, another popular thing to ‘give up’ for Lent), but it’s not actually that difficult. However, the purpose of Lent is not actually about fasting or giving things up as a challenge.

Lent is actually about drawing you into a deeper fellowship with God.

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. Lent isn’t a test of your willpower. Instead, it is a journey in which your failings reveal your need for total dependence on Christ.

CS Lewis from “The Weight of Glory”

So maybe focusing more about Jesus and God is actually the key to avoiding ‘sin’ by breaking Lent.

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What Happens After You Break Lent?

Keeping the focus on Jesus and not our ‘wins and failures’ of Lent will help us keep Lent properly.

Lent is one of those seasons that starts out with the greatest of intentions but quickly unravels. Like with making New Year’s resolutions, most Lenten fasts are full of hope. But also like with resolutions, it’s hard to keep. While it may seem there is no penalty for breaking Lent., it really isn’t the case. Breaking Lent has repercussions.

What you do after you break Lent depends on the reason why. If it was on purpose and not official, then Catholics should make a good confession to a priest. If you break Lent unintentionally, then you are not culpable. It’s okay to pause Lent Sundays and of course, at the end of the 40 day period.

If you fail at Lent, the first thing to do is reflect on why and what that means in your circumstance.

Questions to Ask Yourself When You Fail At Lent:

  • Was it on purpose? Or was it unintentional?
  • Did you fail at your own Lenten fast (i.e. ‘choice’) or did you fail at a Lenten obligation?
  • What is your religious affiliation and what does it say about Lent obligations?
  • Should you adjust your fasting promise-if not an obligation?
  • What’s your goal at Lent? How aligned is your goal to following Jesus?

After reflecting and answering the above questions about your Lenten failure, get up and try again. Some priests have actually said that breaking your Lenten commitment should not be viewed as a failure but as an opportunity to rethink what your practices should truly be about and making sure it’s bringing you closer to Jesus.

Remember the focus of Lent should be Jesus, not you and your successes and failures. 

As such, Lent mustn’t be a period when you try to hide from God your difficulties with praying, fasting, and/or almsgiving. And you cannot accomplish anything by wallowing in your failures.

And after you recommit to your Lenten sacrifice following reflection, you should humbly acknowledge your shortcomings and call on the strength of God to help you. In this way, failing can bring you closer to God as much as succeeding. No matter what happens, He still loves you.

Remember the season of Lent and ‘succeeding at your fast’ does not make you a hero. Lent is not actually about you, after all. It’s about Jesus!

Is It A Sin To Not Give Up Something For Lent?

Sometimes giving up something for Lent can actually take our focus away from Jesus.

It might surprise you to find out that the practice of giving up something for Lent (e.g., chocolate, TV shows, hot showers, etc,) is not a mandate from the Catholic Church or any other church body. Instead, it is a private devotion that is not regulated by the Church.

It’s not a sin to not give up anything for Lent for Catholics and non-Catholics. Lent is to bring us closer to Jesus, so whatever we do should focus on that. Fasting and abstaining certain days are Catholic Lenten obligations, though.

It is more akin to a self-imposed atonement carried out by Catholics for sins committed over the previous liturgical year. Like Lent, they do not command it. So, if you are not feeling penitential, you don’t have to pick up this devotion. No broken commands, no sin committed.

This is not pertaining to the obligational days of Lent like fasting and abstaining on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Those are days we must ‘give up.’

But, saying no to the desires that control you and giving up something is powerful when done for the right reasons. Fasting takes the focus off you and puts it on Jesus. Surrendering your earthly goods helps to remind you that there is more to your life.

Although it is not a sin to refuse this Lenten practice, I believe your refusal may cost you an opportunity to rest and recall; to meditate on the cross, and to prepare your heart meaningfully for Easter.

TIP: If you decide to let go of something as a sacrifice, do not set an improbable goal. Even as you stretch your limits, keep in mind that it is not an excuse to add religious zeal to your normal resolutions.

Common Fasts People ‘Give Up’ for Lent:

  • Social Media
  • Movies for Pleasure
  • Internet Surfing
  • Fast Food or Eating Out at Restaurants
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Fried Foods
  • Sweets and Desserts
  • Gossiping
  • Parties and Festivities
  • Shopping Frivolously (not for necessities)
  • Wearing Makeup and Jewelry
  • Shaving for Men

Are Seniors Exempt From Fasting During Lent?

Though Catholics are obligated to fast during Lent, there are exceptions.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the fasting requirement begins at age 18 and continues until age 59. Those aged under 14, the elderly, sick, pregnant women, manual workers, seafarers, or others in situations that have moral or physical reasons for eating meat are excused from abstaining.

Canon 1252 of the Code of Canon Law states that all Latin-rite Catholics must observe abstinence from age 14, but there is no upper age limit on abstinence to be excused. Those who need to eat meat or avoid fasting for a medical reasons may be dispensed from the requirement, however.

Usually, those who fast during Lent are free to consume one full meal and two smaller meals enough to keep up strength. When combined, the smaller meals should not equal a full meal. You can also have liquids, including fruit juices and milk, in between meals.

Abstinence forbids the eating of meat, but fish, eggs, seafood, condiments made from meat, and milk products, are allowed. Seniors who have no health problems and are willing can fast and abstain to their heart’s content.

Lent can be a fulfilling experience if you do it well. The goal is not to have something to boast about, but to come to a place of complete appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Obligation Days of Lenten Fasting:

  • Ash Wednesday-fasting and abstaining
  • Good Friday-fasting and abstaining
  • All Fridays of Lent-abstaining from meat only

Wrapping Up What Happens When You Break Lent?

To wrap it up, what happens when you break Lent depends upon your religion, purpose for observing Lent, and what caused you to break Lent.

  • As Catholics, it is a sin if you don’t follow Lenten obligations.
  • As Protestants and non-religious observers of Lent, it not considered by them as sinful to break Lent.

If you break or fail at Lent, I encourage you to reflect on why because intentions matter. And remember, our failures and successes at Lent shouldn’t be our focus. Jesus is the reason for Lent.

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