Sunday lent exception

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about a Sunday exception for your lenten sacrifice. Is this true? If so, I’d imagine it’s more than just a hooray it’s Sunday thing and that there is more to it than it just being Sunday. Any information and clarification is appreciated.

Sundays are days of celebration in the church. Therefore, the lenten fasting and penance do not have to be followed those days, although you certainly may continue those practices on Sundays.

How does that work? Doesn’t it kind of break the purpose of self-denial for God?

Sundays, even during Lent, are feast days in the Church. As such, it is improper to fast on a feast day. We have six remaining days on which to fast.

Similar to how all Fridays throughout the year are days of penance (though we are now allowed to choose our penance on non-Lenten Fridays rather than abstain from meat), every Sunday is a “mini-Easter” and a feast in the Church. That is why some (though not all) choose to exempt Sundays from the Lenten fast.

We say Lent is 40 days - that’s Monday to Saturday of 6 weeks (36 days), plus Wednesday through Saturday of this week (4 days). So yeah, the exception is reasonable. That said, I never did it as a kid, so it seems like cheating to me. :slight_smile:

This is firmly in the realm of “no official answer.” :slight_smile:

Lent is a time of penance. I see nowhere in any Church documents where they say “except for Sundays.”

That said, giving things up for Lent is voluntary personal piety, not morally binding mandate. If you want to give up candy during Lent except for on Sundays. you can. If you want to give up candy during Lent except for on Thursdays, you can. If you want to alternate every day in Lent between giving up candy and giving up coffee, you can.

I always recommend Jimmy Akin’s Annual Lent Fight. He pretty much touches on all the common Lent related questions (like this one) that come up year after year.

Akin brings up the point that penance and celebration are not mutually exclusive. Sundays during Lent are celebrations, but they are still penitential. We omit the Gloria and the Alleluia. The priest wears purple vestments (the penitential color). Offering penance on those days is not inappropriate.

I tried the alternating thing once, it felt cheap and like a cop-out. So if there is no official answer, why do a lot of people draw the conclusion of no need on Sundays? If our penance is supposed to be throughout the Lenten season, why do some conclude that Sunday is exempted? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but this is something that I’ve always been confused on and could never get a straight answer about.

40 days of the 365 is not too much for me.

Fr. Serpa just answered this question in the Ask an Apologist forum:

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly how or why the whole “Sunday exception” thing came about. I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic schools and pretty much had all Catholic friends growing up, but I never heard of it until I went to college. :shrug:

I know at least some of it has to do with the number of days. For those who really want the Lenten season to be exactly 40 days, one of the ways you can arrive at that is by excluding the Sundays. From a numbers perspective, that works out. But not really from the perspective of the liturgical calendar.

I had the same experience you did. I tried it a few times, but I felt like I was cheating. :o

Fr Serpa just answered this qustion…


It’s up to you. You make your own rules on voluntary penances. If you want to give yourself a break on Sunday, you may do so. If you want to maintain your penances for all of Lent, then do so. The Sundays of Lent are a part of Lent and the voluntary penances that you choose for yourself are a matter of your free choice.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.


My somewhat educated guess is that the idea of not continuing Lenten observance on Sunday comes from the old law regarding fasting during Lent. In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, every day of Lent was to be a day of fasting, *except *Sundays (canon 1252 of the 1917 Code). I presume that this law predates the 1917 Code so this idea of “feasting” on Sundays of Lent is probably a lot older than the 1917 Code.

Since Sunday was exempt from fasting, people probably thought that whatever else they were “giving up” for Lent could also be enjoyed on Sundays. That conclusion has remained with us, even though the fasting requirements have changed.


It depends on your discipline to include Sundays or not. Remember penance and fasting is a discipline and everyone can have a different level towards their Lenten exercises. The Orthodox Church for instance teaches fasting at a very high level of discipline and I believe includes Sundays as well during Lent. Even though this level of discipline is taught in the Church it does not normally follow that everyone obeys it to the letter. You follow it in and through the strength you are able to. Guidelines are only guidelines and not everyone can follow it. Remember to that it is our Lord Jesus that we do this for and He might not want us to follow the strict guidelines of the Churches if they present a problem to your health. There was an instance in the Diary written by St. Maria Faustina when during Lent she had recieved some oranges. She pondered about this whether to eat them because she was doing her penance and fasting for Lent. The Lord Jesus came to her with this message, “My daughter, you please Me more by eating the oranges out of obedience and love of Me than by fasting and mortifying yourself of your own will. A soul that loves Me very much must, ought to live by My will. I know your heart, and I know that it will not be satisfied by anything but My love alone.” Maria was not feeling well and the Lord told her to eat these oranges as it was His gift to her while she was not well.

I asked a priest about this once and he also said that it is up to me; the way I put it for myself, that’s the way it counts.

Didn’t mention in my earlier post, but I do fast and pray all of Lent, and do not exclude Sundays. This I was taught in first grade, that Sundays are not exempt. God bless.

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