My children came home from their Catholic grade school proclaiming that they don’t have to abstain or fast during Lent since they are too young. What are the official rules? And is it wrong to ask my own children to fast?
The official age for abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, along with Ash Wednesday, is 14 and up. For fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the official ages are 18-59. Pregnant and nursing mothers are exempted, as well as the frail and infirm.
Now, of course, as the leaders of your domestic church, you may certainly ask your children to join you in fasting and abstinence. And we encourage you to do so. We have required this of our kids for years, and they’re grateful that the habit has been formed in them. Denying ourselves and saying No to the desires of the flesh is good for us, no matter what the age.
Pope Benedict urged us last year during Lent to think of fasting as "a therapy to heal all that prevents us from conformity to the will of God." He explained further: "Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by his saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God." That really struck us, because, more than anything, we want to know and do the will of God, and we want our children to do the same.
In addition to the regular fasting and abstinence rules of the Church, we also discuss with our children what we can give up as a family. There are many ways to fast: giving up television, Play Station, caffeine or in-between-meal snacks, for example. Last year, we decided to fast from all sweets, and this year the topic has been in hot debate. We have decided, however, that our special intention will be an end to abortion everywhere. We’re happy to join the 40 Days for Life campaign (40DaysforLife.com), a great nation-wide pro-life effort of prayer, fasting and witness. We’ve found that when we are offering up our feeble attempts at fasting for a special intention, it’s much easier to turn down the chocolate. We can do it for a precious, unborn baby.
For those with school-age children, we love "Holy Heroes’ Lenten Adventure." We highly recommend it for religion teachers and CCD classes, too. Families sign up for free at HolyHeroes.com, and, three times a week, they will receive a special Lenten video made by some precious kids. It also includes downloads for coloring pictures, crossword puzzles and word searches. For more ways to celebrate Lent as a family, go to the "Lenten Workshop" webpage at CatholicCulture.org.
We encourage you to talk to your family about what you can do together this Lent. It is so unifying to make a family sacrifice, and it will make a deep impression on your children. It’s not too late!
This Lent, may we remember that the ultimate goal of fasting, as stated by Pope Benedict, is "to help each one of us make a complete gift of self to God."
The McDonalds are
coordinators of family life
and adult education
at St. Ignatius parish
in Mobile, Alabama.