What has happened to fasting and one meal a day during Lent?

The documents of the Second Vatican Council say that lent is about two things: the recall and preparation for baptism; and penance. However, both the baptismal and penitential sides of Lent appear to have disappeared.

Father Peter O'Dwyer explains that the baptismal aspect of Lent was strong up until the ninth or tenth century. At that time, adult converts were far more common with elaborate baptismal ceremonies which included exorcisms.

The word Lent means spring. The notion is a period of preparation for the great feast of Easter.

Lent as we know it today dates from around the middle of the fourth century. At that stage, fasting was a feature of Lent but not necessarily every day. In the fifth century, Lent becomes much stricter with the introduction of the daily fast during lent and one meal per day largely consisting of bread and water.

Father Sean Fagan explains that over time, changes have taken place with regard to Lent with less emphasis on fasting. Until quite recently, Fr Fagan believes that most people believed Lent to be a "prolonged meditation on the passion" whereby people identified with the physical sufferings of Christ. Vatican II changed the emphasis to refocus on the basic meaning of Lent.

John O’Connor welcomes the shift in emphasis as it gives people more freedom to interpret their own meaning of Lent. He believes that Lent offers him the opportunity to talk to his children about the humanity of Christ.

We decide for ourselves in what way Lent should be meaningful for us.

'Sunday: What Ever Happened To Lent?’ was broadcast on 23 March 1980. The presenter is Andy O’Mahony.