Lenten Abstinence for Vegetarians and Vegans

The law on abstinence, which applies to Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent, requires us to abstain from eating any meat on those days. Under current law, broths made from meat may be taken, as long as there are not bits of meat in them. (Laws have varied in this regard over time.)

What about vegetarians and vegans?

Those who habitually abstain from meat — usually done as a lifestyle choice and not for penitential reasons — already fulfill the letter of the law. We may not have meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent; vegetarians and vegans already do not eat meat those days or any other day. Done.

But there is also the spirit of the law. The majority of us, who do eat meat, do so because we like it. Some folks really like seafood also, so perhaps having that instead of meat is not such a big deal. But many people do not like seafood, or it’s at least not their first choice. And then there is the psychological factor: on a day when you’re told you may not eat something, it may well be the case that you crave it more than other days. And whether or not giving up meat on a particular day is all that hard, it’s what the Church has assigned us, so that we make a sacrifice as a community.

So how can a vegetarian or vegan keep the spirit of this law also? They already fulfill the letter. I would suggest that to fulfill the spirit, they should consider giving up something they commonly eat and enjoy.

For many, this might most easily be fulfilled at breakfast, since many people eat the same breakfast most days. So maybe a vegetarian has toast with peanut butter each morning and rather enjoys it. Maybe a vegan has gluten-free toast substitute with foraged free-trade almond butter (I tease) each morning and rather enjoys it. That could be a good thing to “give up” on days of abstinence, choosing something else instead.

It’s so easy to reduce Lent to a list of rules. As I said in my recent sermon, which I posted here on the blogwe do well to connect our sacrifices — including those imposed on us by the Church — to our spiritual lives, and not just approach them as “a list of more or less difficult things that I have to endure for 40-something days”. Examining the spirit behind our rules and laws is a helpful way more effectively to connect them with our spiritual life and really profit by them. For any vegetarians or vegans out there, I hope this will help.

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