The Purpose of Lent is to recover our Christian sense that sin is alien so that we are roused to begin the spiritual journey toward Easter, and not be content in our fallen state. For this purpose, people fast during Lent. There is no Lent without fasting. Fasting is how one means Lent, like words are how one means. The meaning of Lent is to fast. But with the loss of liturgical consciousness, this theological meaning is attenuated to either side. On the one had, the rationalist fasts for half a day until he can declare, “Now I get it! Now I see the point!” and stops. On the other hand, the sentimentalist makes a symbolic fast to create excitation in the heart rather than a hunger in the stomach. But fasting is not an expression (of thought or sentiment); it is an act. Doing it theologically declares something about the world and one’s relationship to it. When Mrs. Murphy does primary theology [the theology from the pew], she actually fasts and knows the reason why. If, as Schmemann says, liturgical theology elucidates the fundamental meaning of worship, then the goal here is neither to elucidate the idea of Lent (and once this idea comes through, the fasting is no longer necessary), nor to stimulate the feeling of Lent (and once the feeling comes through, a symbolic fasting will do). Practitioners of lower tier popular religion did not have a thought about Lent, they did not have a feeling about Lent, they did Lent by fasting. They struggled for, expressed, preserved, and experienced the meaning of Lent by fasting, and their theology can be read off the liturgical rubrics and canon law regarding the Lenten fast. (Fagerberg, David W. Theologia Prima: What is Liturgical Theology? pg 142-43)
David Fagerberg was a professor of mine at Notre Dame and taught a class on Liturgical Theology. It was a fantastic class. Professor Fagerberg also writes for Gilbert Magazine and wrote a book some time back on Chesterton’s Catholicism: I believe it was called The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism.