Q: My sister, who is no longer a practicing Catholic, asked me where Lent comes from and whether it is biblical. Her Church emphasizes the biblical basis of everything they do. I’ve noticed that some parishes remove the holy water from the fonts during Lent. Why? One last question: On Fridays in Lent, why can we eat fish but not other meats such as chicken, steak, pork, etc.?
A: Lent is based on Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert, which recalls the 40 years that the Hebrew people wandered between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. During Lent the Church prepares to welcome new members through Baptism at the Easter Vigil. In Matthew 6:1-8, Jesus assumes that his disciples will pray, fast and give alms; he warns them not to “show off” in the process.
Many parishes take the holy water out of the fonts during Lent. You might think of it as “fasting before the feast.” This custom helps some people better appreciate the symbolism of baptismal water at the Easter Vigil. During the Easter season, water is used during the sprinkling rite at the beginning of many Masses.
Speaking of fish as “meat” may be stretching that term. The Catholic Church’s abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cattle or pigs—all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Fish are a different category of animal.