Sundays in Lent: Yes or No?
Having just completed making my batch of Cream of Mushroom Soup (for tomorrow), finishing off my last turtle chocolate candy, and heating up the iron to rid a few wrinkles from my nobly simple Lenten violet chasuble, I want to respond to a question I hear every year. My mother brought the question from her parish prayer group: Regarding Lenten practices/sacrifices/observances, do Sundays "count"? Are we supposed to observe our Lenten practices on Sundays too or can we take those as a break?
First, how is Lent computed? The Holy Season of Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive on Holy Thursday. Though Sundays during Lent are certainly Sundays of the season, the official count of 40 is had by counting from Ash Wednesday to Easter, but excluding Sundays. Thus, comes the question: Do we still do our Lenten things on Sundays?
To my knowledge, the Church has never officially spoken on this. The contrary notwithstanding, then, I offer that I can see the plausibility of both positions, yes and no. Let's look at each position.
Yes. Sundays are still in the season and many people don't want to skimp. This position views the Lenten observances, specifically the sacrifices, as the total deprivation of some good for a spiritual purpose, a deprivation that is not to cease until the day of the Lord's Resurrection is celebrated. That is justifiable and laudable.
No. This position bases itself on two factors. (1) The traditional 40 day count is had by excluding the Sundays; and, (2) A liturgical consideration. All Sundays throughout the Liturgical Year are considered "little Easters", the Lord's Day on which his Resurrection is commemorated. Therefore, it is a day of celebration, not penance. So, this position holds, Sundays may be observed as little breaks during our Lenten practices, free days as it were. Some even add here the two solemnities that fall in Lent (March 19 & 25), because likewise solemnities are liturgical feasts, thus not days of penance. In this scenario there would be 8 "free days" in Lent.
Both positions seem fine to me. I will admit, having more of a liturgical spirituality, I love living my days according to the liturgical calendar, marking Sundays and solemnities as days of special joy and feasting. Thus, for myself, I would tend to lean toward the position that, if one chooses, he may observe Sundays and the two solemnities as free days. However, it would be contrary to the spirit of Lent to go "hog wild" on the free days. Enjoy a little of what has been given up if you wish, but with restraint.
Again, it is important to remember that the Church has not spoken on this. What has been legislated for the universal Church is that Ash Wednesday is a day of Fast and Abstinence. In addition, all Fridays in Lent are days of Abstinence. Good Friday (technically outside of the Lenten season) is also universally legislated as a day of Fast and Abstinence. After that, the answer to the question of this post is left to each individual to discern. I would suggest arriving at your own answer by asking, "What is the sign of my love for the Lord this Lent?" Is that sign something you best express by scenario one or by scenario two? And there is your answer.
And let's remember right now, by the way, ALL Fridays throughout the year are supposed to be observed as days of penance. Outside of Lent (the Church officially establishes the penance for Fridays of Lent) the faithful are asked to choose their own penance. Perhaps it is the customary abstaining from meat. Perhaps it is some form of fasting. Perhaps it is some special observance added to one's routine like a visit to the church or chapel or some work of mercy. The important thing is that Fridays not be forgotten because of that one Friday in human history when mankind's freedom from sin was purchased.