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The Correct Thing for Catholics: 21 Things to Do (and 18 Things to Avoid) During Lent…

The Correct Thing for Catholics: 21 Things to Do (and 18 Things to Avoid) During Lent…

Editor’s Note: Visit EWTN’s special website on Lent for the current penitential rules and further background on the season.

I am always hunting through the past for interesting corners of Catholic life and practice. A few years ago, I found a book, published in 1891, called The Correct Thing for Catholics. It’s available online here. 

The tone is arch, but of course that was the tone of public discourse at the time — watch The Gilded Age, and you’ve got it.

And yes, you read this and you might think, rules, rules, rules. Where’s my mature adult Christian freedom at?

You’d have a point, of course, but you might also have lived enough time on this earth to be so exhausted by the pressure to be spiritually creative that a few tried-and-true rules and regulations don’t seem that bad, really.

Yes, yes, we know what that can lead to. The dreaded specter of legalism, of course. But guess what? Anything can have negative consequences, even my Spirit-Led-Personal-Spiritual-Practice. Hard to believe, but true.

So let’s just all try to do the correct thing for Lent …

Shall we?

It Is the Correct Thing

To begin the holy and penitential season of Lent by assisting at Mass and partaking of the blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday.

To resolve to observe all the regulations of the Church as far as one is able.

To abstain from all worldly amusements from motives of piety and not because it is bad form to keep up social dissipations during Lent. Society closes its doors during this time.

To decline all invitations to amusements.

To remember that a woman who is able to keep up the round of social enjoyments all winter ought to be able to fast during Lent.

To be punctilious about attending the Lenten devotions Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

To assist at the daily Mass if at all possible.

To take but one full meal on any day in Lent (Sundays excepted), and then not till after twelve o’clock.

To know that when it is the custom to take dinner in the evening and not at midday, a collation is permitted in the morning.

To know that fish (oysters) and meat cannot be used at the same meal during any day in Lent, even on Sundays.

To know that meat is allowed but once a day except on Sundays.

To know that on Wednesdays and Fridays, meat is not allowed, nor is it allowed on the second Saturday in Lent (Ember-day) or Holy Saturday. That if the dinner or full meal is taken at noon, one may take a cup of tea, coffee or thin chocolate in the morning, and a collation, which is about the one-fourth of any ordinary meal, in the evening.

To know that one is obliged to fast as soon as he finishes his twenty-first year, or begins his twenty-second. That children should abstain from meat when they reach the age of seven years.

To remember that abstinence and fasting are two different things. Every Friday in the year is a day of abstinence but is not a fast day.

Every day in Lent except Sundays is a fast day.

To remember that sick, convalescent or delicate people are not obliged to fast. That those engaged at hard labor, tradesmen generally, railroaders, steamboat-men, etc., are not obliged to fast.

To know that every Saturday in the year is a day of abstinence like Friday, but the people in the United States are exempt at the present time.

To lay aside the pipe or the bottle during Lent.

To devote the time of Lent to a building up of one’s spiritual life.

To make Lent a red-letter period for the poor and suffering.

To remember that travelers should keep Lent abroad as well as at home, and that the mere fact of leaving home does not abrogate the Lenten obligations.

It Is Not the Correct Thing

To begin the Lenten season by grumbling.

To keep Lent because it is fashionable to do so.

To occupy one’s time in preparing for the post-Lenten festivities.

To fail to attend the Stations of the Cross, as well as the Wednesday and Sunday evening instructions.

To neglect daily Mass when able to attend. In cities where there are early Masses in nearly all churches, one who wishes, with a little mortification, may attend Mass.

To neglect spiritual reading, religious instructions, and acts of self-denial.

To omit works of charity when the occasion of doing good presents itself.

To begin Lent with the proper dispositions, and relax before it is over.

To neglect works of penance when one is free from the obligations of fasting.

To take milk, thick chocolate or highly sweetened coffee in the morning.

To take butter, eggs, cake, pie or anything but a cracker in the morning.

To eat meat at the evening collation.

To be guided by the example of negligent Catholics rather than the written law of the Church.

To discuss the propriety or impropriety of the Lenten regulations, or to find fault with them.

To forget that far from being a pleasure, the Lenten season is a time of penance and should be spent accordingly.

For parents to show a negligence in the observance of Lent, and thus give bad example to their children.

For any one to dispense himself from the Lenten obligation.

To forget that the pastor is the proper person to dispense.

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