Can You Break Lent on Sundays?
My wife and I were at a Casino Night fundraising event for a great nonprofit, ACT AZ, during Lent 2023. We had a great time, but a friend noticed we weren’t drinking. We let them know we had given up alcohol for Lent. It was suggested we make an exception for the event. I politely let her know that we only break our fast on Sundays and Feast Days.
She was surprised but respectful.
What exactly are our obligations when it comes to Lent and why do we break my fast on Sundays?
Focusing on the Season of Lent.
The season of Lent is a journey towards the most significant event in the Christian calendar: the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
Lent is a season of reflection and repentance.
The act of denying oneself certain foods or luxuries serves as a reminder of the transient nature of earthly pleasures. Fasting helps cultivate self-discipline and control over desires, fostering a deeper reliance on God.
Fasting, along with prayer and almsgiving, helps prepare spiritually for this celebration. It’s a time to clear away distractions and focus more intently on one’s relationship with God. Some choose to adopt positive practices, like daily acts of kindness, rather than give something up.
The emphasis is less on the specifics of the fast and more on the heart’s intention behind it.
So, while we have common standards listed above, we can add other forms in our own way.
Some ways of fasting during Lent that I’ve observed in the past:
No food from Sunrise to Sunset
I got this idea from observing my Muslim friends fasting during Ramadan the year before in Afghanistan.
I prayed a daily rosary (Between 15-25 minutes) as a way to adopt a positive practice while observing the Church’s standard fast listed above.
Liturgy of the Hours (Lauds)
I prayed the daily Morning Prayer (About 20 minutes) from the Liturgy of the Hours.
Like many good habits formed during Lent, I kept this habit up and continue it today.
TV, Alcohol, & Liturgy of the Hours (Vespers)
I added the Evening Prayer (About 20 minutes) from the Liturgy of the Hours. I gave up all Television and intoxicating substances, such as alcohol.
At this point in 2023, I was doing the Morning, Evening, and Night Prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours.
These were all my own personal form of penance.
I am not obliged to practice them, but I hold myself accountable, and the challenges I have placed on myself have been very fruitful.
Not only that, but this is a time when the entire Christian community is united in prayer and penance, so I’m lifted up by fellow Christians.
Can I stop my own form of penance? Yup.
Can I change my own form of penance? Absolutely.
For most of my adult life, when I chose my form of fasting, I would hold that fast throughout the period of Lent until Easter Sunday.
I know many Christians who do the same.
The day St. Patrick's Day Changed Everything!
In 2017, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday when we typically hold our standard fast (plus whatever form one personally decided to observe), and someone mentioned we didn’t need to hold our fast that day. I asked our pastor, who confirmed this because it was a day of Solemnity.
Jesus himself says there are appropriate times to fast and times to feast.
The designation of Sunday as a day of solemnity in the Christian tradition is rooted in the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Here’s a breakdown of why Sunday is observed with such reverence:
- Resurrection of Jesus: The most fundamental reason for Sunday being a day of solemnity is that it commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament accounts, Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, which is Sunday.
- “The Lord’s Day”: Early Christians began to refer to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10) in honor of Christ’s resurrection. This was distinct from the Jewish Sabbath, which is observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
- Apostolic Tradition: The Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul provide evidence that the early Christian communities gathered on the first day of the week to break bread (celebrate the Eucharist) and hear the Word of God (Acts 20:7).
- Shift from the Jewish Sabbath: While the earliest Christians, many of whom were Jewish, continued to observe the Sabbath, the day of communal Christian worship and rest gradually transitioned to Sunday. This shift was in part theological, emphasizing the newness of the Christian covenant and its foundation on the Resurrection, and in part practical, as the Christian community became increasingly Gentile and sought to distinguish its practices from those of Judaism.
- Constantine’s Edict: In 321 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine, who had converted to Christianity, decreed Sunday to be a day of rest for the Roman Empire. While Christians were already observing Sunday as “the Lord’s Day,” this edict further solidified its status within the broader societal context.
- A Day of Joy and Hope: The Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, signifying hope, victory over death, and the promise of eternal life. Therefore, Sunday is not just a day of rest but also a day of joy, hope, and celebration.
- Church’s Liturgical Calendar: In the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations, Sundays are treated as “mini-Easters,” echoing the themes of resurrection, hope, and renewal each week. Additionally, many of the Church’s major feasts and solemnities are celebrated on Sundays.
Sunday’s designation as a day of solemnity is deeply intertwined with the central event of the Christian faith—the Resurrection of Jesus—and has been observed as such from the earliest days of the Christian Church.
Therefore, learning what days were days of Solemnity and days of Penance, I decided to break my fast on Sundays and observe my fast during the days of penance.
This is why, during Lent, I break my fast on Sundays and Feast Days.
I’m writing this not to encourage others to do the same but to inform some of my dearest friends who question why I turn it on or off on specific days with more details.