Origin of the word
LENT- Originally meant spring season. Today we use the word to denote the forty days of fast preceding Easter.
The Church in the Apostolic Age designed to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ by a weekly celebration. The Sunday liturgy constituted the weekly memorial of the Resurrection and the Friday fast which commemorated the Death of Christ.
Nature of lenten fast
The ordinary rule on fasting was to take but one meal a day only in the evening while meat and wine were entirely forbidden. During Holy Week or at least on Good Friday a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables was allowed. St. Gregory's writing to St. Augustine of England laid down the rule, "We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." This decision was afterwards enshrined in the "Corpus Juris", and must be regarded as the common law of the Church. Still exceptions were admitted, and dispensations to eat were often granted upon condition of making a contribution to some pious work. Several churches are said to have been partly built by the proceeds of such exceptions. This general prohibition of eggs and milk during Lent is perpetuated in the popular custom of blessing or making gifts of eggs at Easter.
Relaxations of the Lenten Fast
From early Middle Ages Lent consisted of forty weekdays, which were all fast days, and six Sundays. From the beginning to the end of that time all flesh meat was forbidden even on Sundays, while on all the fasting days only one meal was taken which single meal was not permitted before evening. The hour for breaking the fast during Lent was after the evening service,Vespers. Franciscan Richard Middleton pronounced that a man who took his dinner at midday did not break the lenten fast. More relaxation was afforded in the ninth century, when the Council of Aix la Chapelle sanctioned the concession that draught of water or other beverage in the evening to quench the thirst of those who were exhausted by the manual labor of the day. A small quantity of nourishment which was not taken directly as a meal did not break the fast was adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians. In the course of centuries a recognized quantity of solid food which according to received authorities must not exceed eight ounces has come to be permitted after the midday repast. As this evening drink was taken at the hour at which the Conferences of Abbot Cassian were being read aloud to the brethren, this slight indulgence came to be known as a "collation", and the name has continued since. Other mitigations of an even more substantial character have been introduced into lenten observance in the course of the last few centuries. The custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning. The Holy See allowed meat at the principal meal, first on Sundays, and then on two, three, four, and five weekdays, throughout nearly the whole of Lent. Quite recently, Maundy Thursday, upon which meat was always forbidden, has come to share in the same indulgence. In the United States, the Holy See grants faculties whereby working men and their families may use flesh meat once a day throughout the year, except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas.
Current Lenten Regulations
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of abstinence from meat and also days of fast, that is, limited to a single full meal.
With regard to the obligations of Lent, however, there are frequent questions about the degree of seriousness of the matter.
The teaching of the Holy Father may be simply paraphrased: the obligation to do penance is a serious one; the obligation to observe, as a whole or "substantially", the penitential days specified by the Church is also serious. No one should be scrupulous in this regard; failure to observe individual days of penance is not considered serious; rather it is the failure to observe a substantial number of penitential days which must be considered serious. People should seek to do more rather than less.
Fast and abstinence on the days prescribed should be considered a minimal response to the Lord's call to penance and conversion.
The law of abstinence binds all Catholics 14 years of age and older. The law of fasting binds all Catholics from their 18th birthday until their 59th birthday.
Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Paschal fast is observed on both Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Paschal Fast has less the character of penance than of holding back in view of the great anticipation felt awaiting the Paschal Feast at the Night Vigil.