For over 1,000 years, the Roman Catholic Church has observed the 40 days of Lent leading up into Holy Week with fasting and prayer.
Traditionally those who did not observe a true fast were asked instead to give up something else they held dear – be that a food item or perhaps an iPod in these modern times – in commemoration of what was given up by Christ and as preparation for the celebration of the Holy Week.
However, it seems that a new generation of millennial Catholics are drifting away from observing this particular rite, even as many more millennials drift from the church itself.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Catholics who leave the church do so in college, and 1 in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic.
The Roman Catholic Church as a whole seems to be trying to combat this drift by moving in a more liberal, less strictly orthodox direction with the election of Pope Francis.
Many church observers speculate it was a move made in direct response to the number of millennials leaving the church, and in fact TIME Magazine profiled the Supreme Pontiff as “Francis: A Pope That Millennials Can Love.”
However, in the meantime, anecdotal evidence would indicate that many college students – the group most likely to fall away from the church – have moved away from abstaining from anything during Lent.
This would be in line with the experience of this reporter when assigned to interview Catholic students on-campus about what they are giving up for Lent. The vast majority of students surveyed were not actually giving up anything at all.
Deanna Payne, a senior history major, said that while she was raised in the Catholic Church, attended mass throughout high school and understands that the point of Lent is to sacrifice something valued in reflection of the sacrifice of Christ, she said, “(I do) not give up anything for Lent because I don’t think that giving up chocolate or Facebook or things of that nature really matters. If people really want to do something for Jesus they should promote his passion for…the well-being of others, not just during Lent, but year-round.”
Chamara Moore, a senior English major who is a practicing Catholic and actively involved in the Catholic Student Association, disagrees with the assessment that just because many Catholic students are not giving up anything for Lent means that they are not celebrating it.
“Lent isn’t necessarily about sacrificing so much as doing more. That’s why, as an organization, CSA covers an hour of Eucharistic adoration (prayer and meditation before the Lord) every week during Lent,” she said. “(Lent is) a season of penance, reflection and fasting to prepare for his Resurrection….‘giving something up’ is just a small part of that.”
It would seem that millennials have a slightly different take on Lent than their elders might have a take that was recently echoed by Pope Francis, who in a recent sermon proclaimed that “a selfish attitude of indifference” is what should truly be given up during Lent.