An Open Letter to the Internet About My Being Wrong

by | Mar 10, 2014 | Lent, March, Open Letters | 28 comments

UPDATE: I’m now back on board with my original post, thanks to some advice from Scott P. Richert of the Catholic page and your comments. Whew. But I’m leaving this up because it happened, and because the photoshopping is pretty profound.

Dear Internet,

Remember that post I wrote yesterday? The one about how we can’t ALL be right about Sundays in Lent?

Well, I was right about that part.

But, as it turns out, much of the rest of it was wrong.

I researched that post by consulting faithful Catholic websites, and actually reading actual papal encyclicals. (Despite that background. Seriously, Vatican, do you want us to go blind?) 

All the information I found indicated that fasting from food wasn’t required or considered acceptable on Sundays, even during Lent. Not being able to find primary sources that referred to other voluntary Lenten disciplines, I extrapolated to apply the food policies to other fasts.

Except there ARE primary sources that directly address this exact issue. From the USCCB no less.

Q. Why do we say that there are forty days of Lent?  When you count all the days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, there are 46.
A. It might be more accurate to say that there is the “forty day fast within Lent.”  Historically, Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present configuration of 46 days. The forty day fast, however, has been more stable. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the Time of Lent, but they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence.
Q. So does that mean that when we give something up for Lent, such as candy, we can have it on Sundays?
A.  Apart from the prescribed days of fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the days of abstinence every Friday of Lent, Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential practices for the whole Time of Lent.  These practices are disciplinary in nature and often more effective if they are continuous, i.e., kept on Sundays as well.  That being said, such practices are not regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience.

Thank you to Becky for sharing the link in the comments.

So, there you have it. Although it does say it’s up to an individual to decide, I feel like I, personally, would have to have a very good reason for going against the recommendation of the bishops.

We haven’t told the kids yet. But tonight’s screening of The Prince of Egypt will be our last movie night of Lent. (Thank goodness it was really, really good. And thanks to Jessica for the recommendation.)

As Ashley Sue recommended in the comments of my earlier post, we will find ways to celebrate the joy of Sundays in Lent without breaking our traditional family disciplines of giving up treats and television.

If you broke your Lenten disciplines on my recommendation this Sunday, please accept my sincere apologies. I’ll do the penance for all of us.

I’ll close with a quote from the speech my son Jack gave at our parkday’s Great American Speeches Pageant:

I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better
information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important
subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.

I’ve changed my opinion on this. I’m sorry for any confusion or inconvenience I’ve caused. If you shared my earlier post, I ask that you would do so again with this one.

Your friend,

p.s. I agree with many of you who have said that the bishops’ recommendations seem to leave a lot of wiggle room. Absolutely they do. But . . . If they had said, for instance, “cigarettes” I would think, “yes, those are addictive, you wouldn’t want to have those on Sunday.” If they had said “swearing” I would think, “yes, that’s in poor taste, we shouldn’t take that back up on Sunday.” But they say “candy,” which is pretty much exactly what WE have been indulging in on Sundays at my house. I have written to the USCCB for clarification, and hope to hear back soon. But, until I do, we’re going to err on the side of caution. Unfortunately.


I’ve been in contact with the very wise Scott P. Richert of the Catholic page. He advises me that my first post, and his posts AND the USCCB post can all coexist. Also, that the USCCB page was not written by a bishop, but rather an employee of the bishops, so my concern about obedience to the bishops is not an issue. Anyway, this has all been an interesting exercise. I never did hear back from the USCCB about my concerns, but I feel confident again in the position I endorsed in my original post. Whew.


  1. Kate

    I liked your last post better 😉

    I get the "individual conscience" part, and I appreciate it, but I'm struggling with this "often more effective line," and I wish they'd written a little bit more. I'm reading it like this: since we take up these penitential practices independently it's up to us to moderate them independently, and if we think they are indeed "more effective" if continuous we should maintain them on Sundays. Is that how you're reading it?

    It seems like this speaks to your "not yelling" practice vs. your "no treats" practice. I certainly understand how not yelling for ALL of Lent is more effective, but how exactly is ditching treats for Lent more effective? (That's not a rhetorical question.)

    And in regards to the Dunce hat: when I used to teach I would always look forward to making a mistake in front of my class – give them some misinformation or something – because then I would have to come clean in front of them and that was such a great ethos builder. I found it made them respect me more. It made me human. It made me trustworthy.

    Not that I didn't trust you before, but now I trust you more.

  2. Anonymous

    Well, this screws up my Lenten Retreat that I'm putting together for a bunch of 5-6 year olds tomorrow. 😉 What I think the bishops are getting at, Kate,regarding the effectiveness is this: lets say you give up coffee for Lent. If you were to have some on a Sunday, it might be reeeealy tough for you NOT to have it again on Monday, and you might fail at your self-imposed practice,and might end up beating yourself up for not keeping up with the practice and ditching it all together? Just my thought.
    For instance,I gave up FB, but posted a picture of one of my kids yesterday, and found myself checking it regularly for the rest of the day. I had to "rip the bandaid off," so to speak, and tell myself not to check it again this morning. Now I need to figure out what to tell them about Sunday!

  3. Anonymous

    You beat me to it! And now I think I love your blog even more so. I still think I'll put a post up about it as it applied to what my friends asked yesterday.

    So many of our friends tend to follow the idea of giving up something during Lent but then they go all bang-out for Sunday's and do more of that particular discipline then they ever would normally do in one day which, to me seemed to distort the spirit of Lent. I can't help but think anyone could give up *anything* for just six days and that there isn't enough of a challenge in it – but that's just my thoughts.

    And isn't that Vatican site is hard to read! Yikes!

    ~ nicollette

  4. kate @ be merry, kate

    I've always been of the mindset that it really depends on what you are doing for lent. Like you said in your last post, if you've added praying the rosary daily, you don't use Sunday to get out of doing it. Generally, I don't always give something up that really is affected by Sundays (this year, I gave up snoozing and I don't set alarms on the weekends) but every lent, I try to "fast". Limit snacks, eat simpler meals, etc. But Sundays I allow myself a dessert and cook a fancier meal, etc. I think that is ok, even given the bishops statement. Since it is a matter of individual conscience, I like to think that as long as you are preserving both the penitential days of Lent and the joyful days of Sundays without every trying to bend rules or get-out-of-jail-free, you're probably ok. Allowing yourself to check facebook for 15 minutes on a Sunday is one thing, spending all day Sunday on facebook is quite another.

    • kate @ be merry, kate

      Not sure where that stray "every" came in on my second to last sentence. Where is the dang edit button blogger? Sigh.

  5. Liesl

    I think the last line says it all, though:
    "That being said, such practices are not regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience."
    This isn't the Bishops telling us we HAVE to keep our fasts on Sunday but that we are allowed to make that decision on our own. So I think your first post of "We Can't ALL Be Right About This" was actually wrong because we can all be right? As a person who has tried Lent both ways, I've come to the decision that I don't think it's right to fast on Sundays and solemn feasts at all. Is Jesus telling me, "You have to have that chocolate bar on Sunday to celebrate my Resurrection properly!!!!!"? No, of course not. But by being able to look forward to being able to mini-feast each Sunday is a reminder each time it comes to mind as to WHY I get to feast.

  6. Amanda

    Well crap! lol! That's alright, it really seems like the individual conscience thing tells us that it's okay to loosen up on fasts on sundays anyway. So maybe you're wrong about the fact that we can't all be right 😉 In any case we already promised our kids one parent-chosen movie each sunday night during lent as a break from our TV fast and if we were to go back on our word it would cause a mutiny so we'll stick to that plan. It's still a big change from the usual sunday "Dad's at work all day and I'm grumpy about it so watch 10 movies in a row if you really want to" routine 😉

  7. Anonymous

    ….. and if we want to go back to the humility/grammar talk from posts ago, shouldn't the title read, "An open letter to the internet about "my" being wrong?" 😉

  8. Erin Pulles

    I had a misspelling in my previous post and it bothered me so that I had to delete the entire comment. My point was this: I think you missed the point of 'individual conscience' and your earlier post was right. Their words are: Catholics have traditionally…. well that means nothing to me. Catholics have traditionally done lots of things that change that are not related to faith and morals. In this case, I can see why giving something up for the entirety of Lent would be more beneficial, but I can also see that getting a reprieve on Sunday would be beneficial as well. This all depends upon what is being given up, the age of the person and of course their level of spiritual development. Take that dunce hat off.

    • Kate

      I agree that you shouldn't be in a dunce hat, except it's all so cute: the whole crow supper and chalkboard. So very very funny.

  9. Jenny Cook

    I, for one, appreciated the last post and this one with equal interest, because it helped me see a concrete example where individual conscience comes into Catholic life. Coming from the Protestant POV, where just about everything is up to individual conscience (as guided by the Holy Spirit helping one interpret scripture), there is the misconception that Catholics don't decide anything for themselves because the big bad Pope tells them what to do about EVERYTHING that could possibly be in the moral realm and they must blindly and robotically follow.
    Yes, I used to think that. No, I don't anymore, after, y'know, doing some reading of things that aren't anti-Catholic tracts.
    But I still was failing to see where individual interpretation of moral issues came into the picture, because it seemed like so many of that Protestants consider to be "lesser issues to be decided by our liberty in Christ" (read: contraception) WERE actually addressed with an authoritative stance by the Church.
    So here is an issue that a faithful Catholic can decide based on individual conscience and not because the church has regulated it (in the words of that USCCB quotation). Helpful for me as someone still trying to figure this whole thing out.
    Novella over. As you were.

  10. Ashley Sue

    Maybe we can start a fund to help the Vatican's website design?!? I have attempted to read encyclicals on there but I was eye cramping 45 minutes in to whatever I was reading.

    • Anonymous

      I would give money to that. It really is terrible, isn't it?

  11. Jessica

    My husband and I had a disagreement about when Lent ends, at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, or on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil. Turns out we were both right, in different ways. Liturgical Lent ends at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, but the Lenten Fast ends at the Easter Vigil, and he looked up Canon Law or something like that because he REALLY likes to be right.
    I'm so glad you liked Prince of Egypt!

  12. Anonymous

    I'd never heard of the whole "Lent doesn't count on Sundays" thing until a few years ago, so it never occurred to me that I could stop fasting.

    I thought the crow dinner was a goofy-looking wedding cake for a minute, there.

  13. Anna

    Serving somewhat fancier meals with a dessert and maybe wine on Sundays during Lent still sits pretty well with my conscience. As a family we eat simply and refrain from sweets and alcohol during Lent every year because this is a somber time. Indulging in these things just doesn't fit. But we each have individual observances as well. We take up other things, we give alms, we participate in 40 days for life, we change our focus. We cancel our Netflix (and so far as I know, Netflix doesn't offer a Sunday only rate). Perhaps if I was giving up sweets in a particular way, in response to an immoderate attachment I have for them, then I could see that go back on Sunday would not be helpful. So. I agreed with your first post. And with the USCCB when they say that it's ultimately up to the individual.

  14. Patricia Jauregui

    I agree with you that individual conscience is a pain in the patootie. However, isn't that what becoming an adult in the faith is about? Aren't we called to form our own conscience in prayer and Church's teachings, so we can be accountable of the love in our actions in front of the Lord?

  15. Amy Caroline

    A few years ago my daughter and husband were having this very conversation on line at the grocery store. A man, in line behind them, wearing a motorcycle jacket and holding his helmet under his arm, interrupted to tell my husband that he was a priest and that our daughter was right. Sunday is not a part of Lent. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter in which we celebrate the risen Christ. So you do not "have to" keep your Lenten sacrifice on Sundays. Like you said however, this is a choice and if you gave up cigarettes it would probably not be wise to indulge on Sunday.
    For us, most celebrations like birthdays we hold off for on Sunday during Lent. So cake and ice cream is ok. 🙂

    • Nanacamille

      Fasting, prayer and alms giving are a customary sacrifice for Catholics and some Protestant churches. You get to choose what you do and if there is no specific teaching….. which there doesn't seem to be then you decide on Sunday or not.
      At Ash Wed mass different parish priests were giving out different ages for fast and abstinence. Some said under 55 and other 12 to 59. Which is it?
      After reading all the comments I have changed my mind and think it's better for me to stay off of ice cream and treats the entire time even though I think every Sun is a feast day. It's better for me to do that.

    • Jenn Anne

      Coolest priest ever? Seriously, I want to hear a sermon from a priest who rides a motorcyle. I bet he has some good life experience and good stories.

  16. Anonymous

    Good Post, I agree with the guy from though. It's probably written by an employee at the USCCB, not the bishops. I would stick with the strong tradition of the church to feast on feast days!!

  17. Theresa Devore

    I know it's not Lent right now, but I thought I'd share what has helped me over the past few years. I've had a priest give a sermon one or twice about fasting from things during lent. While I don't remember him explicitly addressing the issue of whether or not to feast or fast on Sundays, his words can be applied to the matter.

    He made the point that fasting during Lent is about more than abstaining from something, it is also about gaining self-control, and growing in virtue. This should be taken into account when deciding what to abstain from during Lent. For instance – you want to give up your daily coffee during Lent, but this makes you irritable and rude to others, so are you really growing in self-control and virtue? Are you giving glory to God? Now, how this applies to this post…..

    This also means that Easter isn't a time of gorging oneself on what you've given up. Say you typically have a piece of chocolate each day, but you are giving up sweets for Lent. Sounds fine right? But instead of simply doing without that chocolate you stash it away for either your "mini Easters" (Sunday) or for Easter itself, and then eat it all then. When the time comes and you're gorging yourself on the chocolate – did you miss the entire point of Lent?

    When I was a teenager I would give up soda or sweets for Lent, and then on Sundays I would eat way more than I normally would have. Instead of passing up the birthday cake on Wednesday, I would take it home, put it in the fridge, and have it for breakfast Sunday morning. I abstained when I was supposed to abstain, but I didn't really get the experience of Lent, I wasn't growing in self-control (putting something off is completely different from definitive refusal), I wasn't growing in virtue. In fact, I was growing in vice – I was being gluttonous during the week in my inability to give it up entirely, and on Sundays I was being gluttonous as I devoured the birthday cake, and handfuls of candy.

    Since having this priest give a sermon that I felt was directed right at me (isn't it great when God speaks to you like that) I've taken up the practice of moderating my Sunday feasts. If it's something I would normally do or have – I don't deny myself that. However, if I find myself wanting something or wanting more of something simply because I "can't have it" the rest of the week, I will maintain the fast.

    I agree with the fact that Sundays are a day of rejoicing, they are mini-Easters all year round, but whether you fast or feast on Sunday should have a lot more to do with your disposition and your intent.

    • Christopher Jackson

      I'm a charismatic Pentecostal Methodist (so feel free to ignore anything I say), but I take my Lenten discipline pretty seriously. I appreciate your thoughts on not just saving it all up, but what makes it a feast if we don't indulge a little? Not to say it's impossible to be glutinous on Sunday; a holy feast ought to be able look like both, holy and a feast. For what seems like such an insignificant matter in relation to other things, what we choose to fill ourselves with really puts a lot of weight on the individual conscience; moderation and balance takes real care in a society where extremes are so often the norm.
      Side note: I rather enjoyed the cookies I baked today, the first baking I have done in quite a while, and I ate them as one truly thankful for the resurrection. (Also that Reese's egg I had which years ago I would have been gorging on the last month since they hit the shelves, so I'm growing). Happy Easter, Christ is Risen, Alleluia!!!

  18. Rosa Patterson

    Just wondering what you or anyone thinks about lent of "olden days" when they would give up all meat, dairy, even sex… And you would be in a lot of trouble with your priest if you ended up pregnant during lent. So I'm not sure the church has a tradition of feasting on Sundays during lent? Or maybe they celebrated in different ways??

    • Kendra

      Rosa, I have seen anecdotal references to stuff like that in literature, but I guess I don't know how widespread Lenten practices like that would have been. It's a big Wide Catholic world out there, and I'm not aware of any doctrinal positions of the church on things like sexual absitinance during Lent. My guess would be that things like that were more regional tradition. But if anyone has more information, I'd be happy to learn more.

    • Rosa Patterson

      Well for example I had always heard the tradition of Easter baskets came about because people would gather up all the forbidden cheese, meat etc. in a basket and have it blessed by the priest before consuming on Easter. Likewise with the eggs, which started the tradition of decorating the eggs and baskets. A quick peek on google as I wanted to read a bit more about the Easter egg, I saw that at least according to Wikipedia it was formerly a tradition in all the Catholic Church to abstain from all the good food during lent, and now it is only a tradition in the eastern church. Very interesting. I have always been so interested in old traditions and wonde why they were changed.

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