From the Pastor: Current Lenten Penance Requirements
I have been besieged with requests for more penance options for Lent. Reading about Heaven, as I suggested last week, just wasn’t seen to be enough. I wasn’t expecting it to be the only thing done for Lent, just one small part of it. But for those who really cannot find enough things to do for penance, I am more than willing to expand my suggestions. First and foremost, though, might I suggest that you simply know and follow the current rules for Lent? The Catholic Church, being both venerable and universal, really does have a good understanding of human needs and desires and abilities. As time progresses humans obviously become wiser and holier and we can count on the Church to see that and make adjustments in her disciplines based on our current human condition. Since we are right now at the pinnacle of human perfection and know more than any other humans at any other time in our history we have progressed beyond simple black and white rules. But formally issuing documents proposing shades of grey is not really good PR so the current regulations are black and white but with a few merciful loopholes. Let’s look at the current practice of Lenten penance, shall we?
To begin with the easiest and most obvious Lenten regulation, we turn to days of Fast and Abstinence. Current regulations are black and white. Eat as much of anything you want anytime you desire it except for eight days, namely, Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. On those days you must Abstain by not eating any meat, and you must Fast by limiting yourself to only eating three meals a day. The first two meals combined cannot equal the size of the last one so plan accordingly. If you eat a breakfast of pancakes and eggs with a side of cheese grits and perhaps some buttery biscuits with honey in the morning you have done well. Oh, I forgot to mention the drinks, which might include a couple of cups of coffee or tea with cream and sugar, a glass of orange juice, and, needless to say, a few Bloody Marys or Mimosas. Note that there is no bacon, ham, steak, or sausage included in the meal, making it truly penitential. If your lunch was then a grouper sandwich with fries, coleslaw, and hushpuppies, accompanied by an ice cold beer or two, with a couple of chocolate chip cookies for dessert, you are still in penitential mode and can congratulate yourself on a job well done as you refrained from ordering the hamburger and pie. But you must be sure that the dinner you choose is substantial so that you don’t die of starvation or malnutrition after having not had any meat earlier in the day. Common sense encourages the Faithful to have dinner at a seafood buffet on Ash Wednesday so that Abstinence from meat is assured. Be sure to eat at least three plates of seafood and maybe a vegetable dish to ensure that the rule of Fasting (the two previous meals not equaling the current main meal) is strictly followed. It is highly recommended that several cocktails and a full bottle of wine (red with seafood, as penance for wine snobs) be taken at this meal, as scrupulous souls may be counting the alcohol content of the early small meals in determining if they are, combined, less than the evening meal’s drink count. Those who are very strong and desire even more penance might, for the remaining days of Fast and Abstinence (the 7 Fridays) forgo the evening seafood buffet and instead attend the local Knights of Columbus’ All-You-Can-Eat-Fish-Fry. But seven days in Lent without lobster, crab claws, shrimp, oysters, and scallops might be overkill as far as penance goes, even for the worst of today’s sinners.
Now that we have seen the black and white Lenten regulations for Fast and Abstinence, which might certainly be seen as draconian in nature and far too hard to accept for most Catholics today, let us look for the merciful “loopholes” which we might use to lessen these harsh mortifications. Let us begin with age. The young and the elderly, obviously, are too weak to Fast or Abstain. So if you are either young or elderly (actual age limitations can be ignored, as those are only in place for people too uneducated to understand “frailty” by any means other than chronological years of life) you may eat, drink, and be merry even during those still-mandatory (because the Church is slow to change) 8 days of penance during Lent. The same exceptions are in place for those whose jobs are strenuous (and whose isn’t nowadays?!), for those who are ill or use medications (including vitamins, herbal supplements, cannabis, and aromatherapy candles), or who are attending a Spring Training baseball game (for not even the greatest of Saints could be expected to pass up hot dogs or brats at the ballpark). You know you have done Lent right if you gain weight by Easter.
Let us now turn our attention to the other penitential practices currently mandated by Holy Mother Church for the 40 days of Lent. Wait. There aren’t any. You simply have to follow the same moral and disciplinary teachings which are in place the rest of the year. From what I hear taught and see written, from Synods to Encyclicals to funeral homily (and “official”) canonizations, those are about as difficult to follow as the Lenten Fast and Abstinence rules. Fortunately, there are merciful loopholes even there, so relax and enjoy the easy penitential season of Lent.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka