Every year many Catholics will ask what they are not allowed to do during Lent, trying to make sure that they don’t break the official rules of the Catholic Church.
In reality, Catholics are allowed to do many things during Lent, as the modern observance of the penitential season is fairly easy compared to the past.
For example, the Church used to instruct the faithful to abstain from meat on all days of Lent, not just Fridays. This was officially relaxed after Vatican II, while still preserving Fridays during Lent as meatless days.
The current Code of Canon Law lists the minimum requirements for Roman Catholics, instructing them on what they are not allowed to do during Lent.
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Strictly speaking, those are the only additional “rules” that the Catholic Church gives Catholics on what they are allowed to do during Lent.
- Abstain from meaton Ash Wednesday and and all Fridays, including Good Friday
- Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
Fasting is reserved to Catholics aged 18-59, and traditionally consists of the following, as clarified by the United States Conference of Bishops.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
This is generally the rule, but can be adjusted by local bishop conferences.
Besides those two basic rules, Catholics are allowed to choose their own penitential disciplines during Lent.
The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence,
In addition to abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics are obligated to do some sort of penance during Lent. This is something that must be done on their own, and a local priest or spiritual director will often advise a person on their Lenten disciplines.