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What does the Church say about it?
Message from the reader:
Should I abstain from sex during Lent? It is something that my wife and I discussed and wanted to know about the Church’s position on this.
Although the Church does not have an official teaching on abstinence from sex during Lent, it is believed that the practice was encouraged in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, according to Denis Janz, professor of History of Christianity at Loyola University in New Orleans. We know this because, according to Janz, Church records showed a marked decline in births nine months after Lent.
Catholics are expected to stop eating meat on Fridays of Lent and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Dropping an addiction or adding a pious practice over the 40 day period is more usual than necessary. What you decide to abstain only concerns you and, in this case, your wife.
However, the act of abstaining from sex to grow in holiness has biblical roots. Paul the Apostle approved the practice of a temporary celibacy to engage in a special spiritual discipline of augmented prayer:
“Do not refuse one another, except by mutual agreement, for a time, to apply yourselves to prayer; and then return again to one another, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinence “(1 Corinthians 7: 5).
It is important that the decision to abstain from the conjugal act as a form of prayer and penance is taken mutually. A spouse should never unilaterally decide that they will be more spiritualistic during this period and hold back or refuse the other’s requests.
Also consider whether this act of piety can become an obstacle to charity or plant seeds of resentment. That is, if sexual abstinence is causing animosity or marital division, then obviously it is not fulfilling its purpose.
There are plenty of benefits provided by sexual abstinence, such as: encouraging generosity, improving prayer life, improving self-control, building communication between spouses, and discovering new forms of nurturing that can strengthen intimacy.
If you two decide to abstain from sex in Lent, consider also that it will be okay if you give up on it, find it too challenging, or regard penance as a pressure on marriage. As I said, it is only advisable not to eat meat on Fridays and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
You may even consider a lighter version of your sex decision in this period, such as abstaining from sexual activity only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday or just during Holy Week. Whatever your decision, I hope it will help you grow as a couple and bring you closer to Christ, which should be the ultimate goal.