But several Catholic bishops are urging the faithful to forgo the steak and chocolates this year — at least on Wednesday, the 14th. That’s because the 14th is also Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent and is one of the holiest days on the calendar for many Western Christians.
Along with Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a somber day of prayer and penance. It’s one of two days in the Catholic liturgical year in which abstinence and fasting are required.
Lent became standardized in the Catholic Church around the year 325, but despite it’s ancient history, myths about Lenten traditions abound. Here are five of the most common.
Myth 1: Lent is 40 days
Counting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, there are 46 days.
Then why do we always refer to the 40 days of Lent? The 40 days of fasting during Lent do not include Sundays.
Every Sunday Christians commemorate the day of Christ’s resurrection, thus, Sunday by its nature is a day of joy and celebration. The Sundays during Lent are not prescribed days of fasting and abstinence, so meat is permitted.
Myth 2: Lent ends on Easter Sunday
Lent ends on Holy Thursday. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14 this year, and ends on March 29, Holy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
As stated in the Catholic Church’s “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar,” the Easter triduum (Latin for “three days”) begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.
Myth 3: Catholics abstain from meat during all of Lent
Only on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent are Catholics required to abstain from meat in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made on Good Friday.
According to abstinence laws, meat includes warm-blooded animals and birds. Fish and other cold-blooded animals are not prohibited.
Local Catholic bishops may determine specific prescripts about what foods are included in abstinence. This can lead to interesting exceptions.
In the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, eating muskrat is allowable on Fridays during Lent. Puffin, beaver and alligator are permissible in some places, too — provided your local butcher has good connections!
Myth 4: The Pope decides the date of Easter
Thanks in part to astronomers who figured out when all full moons would occur, for nearly 1,700 years Easter has fallen on the first Sunday after the Paschal, or Passover, full moon. The earliest possible date of Easter is March 22, and the latest is April 25.
This year Easter is on April 1. Yep, that’s April Fool’s day, another quirky calendrical coincidence.
The way to calculate the date of Easter was determined at a meeting of church bishops and others called the Council of Nicea in 325 near Constantinople in what is now modern day Turkey.
Myth 5: Jesus went into the desert for 40 days before he was put to death
Actually, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, several years before he was crucified.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke — individual, yet similar, interpretations of Christ’s message — each tell of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert, where he fasted, prayed and was tempted by the devil. After this he went to Galilee where he called his first disciples and began his public ministry.