Do Sundays Count?

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There is some question about whether one should continue to observe one's Lenten practices on Sunday or whether Sunday constitutes a "day off." While I understand and acknowledge those who say Sundays are "little Easters" I come down firmly on the side of maintaining your practice.

Lent is not merely a season of forty days of unpleasantness after which we all return to the routine before Lent. Lent is a time of spritiual training. We are all aware for a habit to "take" it must be habitual--that is, done without exception. When you jog every day, you jog every day, not skipping days because it is convenient or you need a day off. A master pianist doesn't decide to take a day, a week, or a month off. So too with Lenten practices. You are practicing two main things encompassed in the one phrase, "I must decrease so that He might increase." That is you are practicing surrender and self-control (always with the help of God's grace) so that His presence in your life comes to dominate and be truly central to all that you do. So long as you view the Lenten penances as simply pious diversions of the season, they can have no lasting effect. But if the point is to love God more at the end of the season, then constant practice is something to carefully consider.

Whatever you choose to do, judgment should not be levied on those who choose otherwise. The Lord leads each one as He chooses, and in a matter where the Church has not spoken definitively, it is up to the conscience of the individual to determine which path to tread. For my part, Sundays should continue whatever observance I have chosen for Lent. I want my Lent to continue into my whole life--I want it to be a season of transformation that leads me into God's embrace. And I know myself well enough to know that "time off for good behavior" is simply an extravagance that puts me into the wrong mindset. I cannot view Lent and its penances and practices as a fundamental good if I am spending time trying to get away from them.

So here's a dissenting argument, one I suspect you will not hear repeated, nor is there likely to be significant concurrence within our community. But that's okay because we each must follow as the Lord leads.

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"From the Ides of September until the beginning of Lent let [the monks] always take their dinner at the ninth hour. In Lent until Easter let them dine in the evening."

So ruled St. Benedict, who doesn't seem to have made an exception for Sundays.

Just a thought Steven, but the Constitutions of the order don't exempt Sundays either do they?
Or does that fall under the rubric of the suitable fast "structure" (for want of a better word) being determined by the prioress or prior?
Of course I am speaking of Carmel here, and the Constitutions rather than the rule of St. Albert, which as I understand it, undergirds the Constitutions, but does not strictly provide the Rule. Anyhow, I don't think the nuns here make any exception for Sundays. I like to continue by practice, as well. But I am very sympathetic with those who might need a breather, and think the "Sunday feast" might provide for those that need it.


I have found that the Sunday breaks are very helpful when you are dealing with children (physical or spiritual). They can make their little steps and rest along the way. In general, however, I very much agree with you post.

Dear Denise,

I'm of two minds about the "Sunday Breather." It strikes me that the attitude is suggestive of something from which one requires a breather--as though one required breaks from Heaven. I guess I see a lot of negative association with Lent that shouldn't be there and the need for a rest from it reinforces this.

Lent is a season of invitation to closeness, that it comes at a cost makes it somehow more worthwhile. What is freely given is often not sufficiently appreciated--take for example the casual attitudes many have toward the whole concept of salvation or the Eucharist.

So I see a negative dynamic in place of the joy of service suggested by the need for a break. On the other hand, one doesn't start out training by running thirty miles a day--one runs a mile (or less) and gradually increases until one can endure. And so these short stints of detachment can be stepping stones from the longer work of detachment through grace. So I do understand what you say. I just like to put a more positive spin on what Lent is really about--an invitation to join our Father in a more intimate and penetrating way.



Steven: I, too, have posted on this, trying to show both possible answers. Since the Church has not spoken on this, and it is a matter for personal judgment, I see both ways as valid. In matters such as these, one errs if he tries to make one way more "canonical" than another. I see your reasoning; it is entirely practical and laudable, even beautiful. A good Lent to you!

I notice an assumption that taking Sunday off makes things easier. In many respects, it can make things harder, because it requires moderation rather than abstinence; many alcoholics can go dry or be drunkards but can not drink in moderation.

If the point is self-control rather than the specific practice, taking Sundays off may result in better results. If, of course, you can swing it.

From a spiritual point of view, a case may be made for taking Sundays off to avoid pride at one's accomplishments by doing the "whole 40". Perhaps we do penance and fasting to be humble and I, personally think that not fasting on the Lord's day is correct rather than just a choice from among equals. Sunday is the day of the week dedicated to the memory of Jesus Christ our Lord and setting this day aside to be with Him, hence our visit to church. Did not Christ himself say something about this?:
Mark 2:18 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?"
19 Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests fast 13 while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

Try to relaxing your Lenten sacrifince on Sunday and see how you feel and find out the real reasons for not wanting to should that be the case. It is a safeguard against pride. Do you ever get to the end of Lent and tell God... "I did it!" as if He didn't know? Will God love you any less if you choose not to observe on Sundays. This is the 7th day... study the concept that God gave us to rest. It is for our own good and especially in this respect for it is for our spiritual good. Also, beware of spiritual competition and the effects on others who are not as strong as some who can easily do 40. Not everybody can run a Marathon, but they can complete the course with a few breaks in between.

The question is not your sacrifice but rather the result of your sacrifices. Who can say that taking Sunday off makes your sacrifice any less pleasing to God? Not me! Au contraire!

Just a thought!

Just an addition... I live in Switzerland and I asked the priest what the tradition is here and he said that it was an absolute custom that one does not fast on Sundays. In fact, the ordo specifically prohibits the priest from administering ashes at Sunday Mass so as not to create a penitential atmosphere. What's more, the Ambrosian Rite which is most common in Milano and parts of Ticino in Switzerland has Lent start on Sunday and the ashes are administered after the Mass has ended so as not to have a penitential rite coincide with the Sunday Mass.

Best, Aventicus

From readings and discussions, I have understood that the reason one does not continue with Lenten fasts/penances is not so much to take a break as to keep Sunday as a day of celebration of the Resurrection. Given that there are 40 days in lent if Sundays are excluded, one is not "shortening the 40 days." That said, I did some quick research and there has been quite an evolution in thought about this over the centuries. In the early days the strict fast (one meal only, no meat, no dairy!) was observed for the entire period including Sundays. Eventually it seems that Sundays became optional. The Orthodox Church observe a great fast which makes us out to be fasting wimps! No meat, no dairy for the entire period! Even more difficult is that they hold to a Eucharistic fast. No masses during the week (only presactified liturgies on Wed and Friday).



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 25, 2004 12:00 PM.

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