Is it a sin to not do a Lenten sacrifice? Is it a sin to not give up a pleasure (or even sin) during Lent? The short answer to both of those questions is: No. It is not a sin to forego a Lenten sacrifice.
Lent is a 40 day fast and penitential season that provides Christians an opportunity to give up something in our life, in addition to adding things such as fasting and almsgiving, in order to draw closer to the Lord. It is a way of remembering and entering into his temptation when he was tempted by the devil for 40 days in the wilderness. Lent is our own wilderness temptation experience.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’ He said in reply, ‘It is written: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘All these things I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’ At this, Jesus said to him, ‘Get away, Satan! It is written, The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:1-11)
Jesus goes through a 40 day wilderness temptation period where the devil is granted access to entice the Lord into sinning. Sin is certainly alluring. However, during this 40 day period the Lord not only fasted, but He also threw Sacred Scripture back at the devil each time he was tempted.
The first temptation Jesus faces it the temptation of hunger and food. The traditional Lenten sacrifice normally involves giving up some kind of food. Fast food, sweets, chocolate, sodas, or pizza are some of the typical sacrifices I hear (especially from teenagers and youth). When giving up something we are accustomed to eating, and it may perhaps be our favorite junk food or meal, then we get hungry for those things. Jesus understood hunger. However, Jesus also spoke truth. He spoke Scripture into that temptation. In order to withstand temptation and draw closer to Christ we must draw closer to Sacred Scripture. We must know Scripture.
The second temptation Jesus faces is a twisting of Sacred Scripture by the devil. It is easy for Christians to take a Bible verse out of context and make it mean something it does not. We must understand Biblical concepts and truths in light of the totality of Sacred Scripture. Jesus demonstrates this well when he corrects the devil, who utilized Scripture to try and tempt the Lord (yes, the devil knows Sacred Scripture). The Lord speaks additional Biblical truth back at Satan to ensure the entirety of the Scriptures were taken as a whole. If we never read the Bible then we do not know how to respond to the temptations the devil dangles in front of us.
The third temptation he faces is power. We acknowledge that the devil has power in this life. He has the authority to tempt and to attack Christians. He is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and he works to cause as many individuals to follow him straight to hell as he can.
It is certainly not a sin to refuse, or skip, participation in a Lenten sacrifice. It will prevent you from receiving graces that the Lord bestows on those who sacrifice for him. Lenten sacrifices are a way of penance that draws us closer to the sufferings and sacrifices of Christ. They are a voluntary way to express our gratitude of his surrender to God’s will even when it was uncomfortable and painful. It is a way of conveying our desire to draw even closer to him.
The Church, however, does require three things during Lent of Catholics. The Church teaches that all Catholics are to participate in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during this time. The increase in prayer time with the Lord is never a waste of time. It is always beneficial to spend time talking with the Lord. The participate in fasting draws us closer to the Lord by focusing on him when we are hungry and recognizing the blessings we have of being able to eat whenever we choose instead of being hungry all the time, as with many individuals throughout the world. Almsgiving is intended to give something that would assist others. It can be monetary donations to the church or other Catholic outreaches. It can also be something as cleaning out your home and decluttering your house and giving those things to charity or donating them where someone else who needs them can use them.
The lack of Lenten sacrifices is not a sin. The lack of a desire to draw closer to the Lord and refusal to seek the Lord over worldly pleasures and desires IS a sin.