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The roots of Lenten abstinence


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Ash Wednesday has passed. Seafood is on sale at supermarkets throughout the Commonwealth. Lent has officially begun.

But why do Catholics abstain from eating meat during the Fridays of Lent?

According to Msgr. Marc Caron, director of Liturgy at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, the practice of abstaining from meat goes back to as far as the 4th century, perhaps even further.

"In abstaining from meat, what the Church is trying to do is to encourage penitential practices in the believer," Msgr. Caron explained. "Penance is a virtue -- in order to receive God's forgiveness, we must first accept that we have done wrong and have a penitential disposition."

"Because meat offered greater pleasure as food and also provided greater nourishment, going without was viewed as a sacrifice," he explained.

According to Msgr. Caron, historically there were two common practices associated with abstinence from meat. The first was to abstain from meat every day during Lent, except Sundays, since Sundays are always a day of rejoicing. The second was to abstain from meat every Friday of the year. In the United States, the current practice is to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent.

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