From the Pastor: More On Lenten Practices
Last week I wrote a bit on the early Church practices of “fast” and “abstinence” during Lent. Several of you have since asked if you now have to give up donuts after Mass, which seems to be a much larger problem than giving up all meat and animal products, such as milk, eggs, butter, and cheese as the early practice required! But no, I did not say/write that you had to follow the practice of long ago. I am simply looking at what used to be done and trying to figure out how we got to where we are right now with these practices. As I mentioned, Dom Gueranger, in his voluminous, “The Liturgical Year,” gives a brief history of Lent and Lenten practices up until his time, 19th century France. Among other things, I quoted him stating that the Lent fasts were no more extreme than the fasts on Ember Days and some Vigils. Of course, nobody following the Novus Ordo liturgical calendar has a clue what Ember Days are nor have they ever seen the Vigil of a Feast change the colors of the Mass vestments to violet, a sure indication that it was a day of fasting and at least partial abstinence! We, of course, just had the spring Ember Days last Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and I am sure that at least some of you kept (voluntarily, since it is no longer a mandate) the fasts and abstinence associated with them from the good ol’ days! Now back to the old regulations for Lent, which are traced back to Apostolic times. Along with abstaining from all meat products, Catholics refrained from eating more than one meal a day and that single meal (with no animal products of any sort allowed) could only be taken after sunset. But the Abbot did not begin his history of Lenten abstinence with the Apostles but actually traced this practice all the way back to Adam and Eve. He takes his cue from some great Saints as he writes, “St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great, make the remark, that the commandment put upon our First Parents, in the earthly paradise, was one of Abstinence; and that it was by their not exercising this virtue, that they brought every kind of evil upon themselves and us their children. The life of privation, which the king of creation had thenceforward to lead on the earth, - (for the earth was to yield him nothing of its own natural growth, save thorns and thistles,) - was the clearest possible exemplification of the law of penance, imposed by the anger of God on rebellious man.
“During the two thousand and more years, which preceded the Deluge, men had no other food than the fruits of the earth, and these were only got by the toil of hard labour. But when God, as we have already observed, mercifully shortened man’s life, (that so he might have less time and power for sin), - he permitted him to eat the flesh of animals, as an additional nourishment in that state of deteriorated strength. It was then, also, that Noah, guided by a divine inspiration, extracted the juice of the grape, which thus formed a second stay for human debility.
“Fasting, then, is the abstaining from such nourishments as these, which were permitted for the support of bodily strength. And firstly, it consisted in abstinence from flesh-meat, because it is a food that was given to man by God, out of condescension to his weakness, and not as one absolutely essential for the maintenance of life. Its privation, greater or less according to the regulations of the Church, is essential to the very notion of Fasting.”
Now, these were some thoughts that I had never encountered before! Since sin entered into the world when Adam and Eve broke the rule of abstinence, that makes our own abstinence seem much more important than I ever thought of before. To me, this is almost as impactful as when I first came across the explanation of how we refrain from eating meat on Friday due to the crucifixion of Our Lord on that day. His “meat” (the flesh of Him Who was truly man as well as truly God) that hung in immeasurable pain upon the infamous cross as He freely offered His Life for our salvation was to be worshipped, received, and consumed by us once the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass made this perfect offering a Perpetual one. It is there, at the foot of the cross--at Mass--that we consume His True Flesh, the “meat” which is infinitely more substantial and beneficial to our well-being than any other meat we could consume. It’s no wonder that we abstain each Friday from other meat, the best of which pales in comparison to that which He described as “true food”! The above explanation may also help those who wonder why men don’t live as long anymore and just why we were lovingly permitted to eat animal products and wine to compensate for our newly acquired weakness.
I will come back to this topic next week but now I need to use the remainder of this space to remind you that our Parish Mission begins this very weekend, Sunday evening at 7:00. Fr. Vincent Capuano, SJ, will preach the Misison. Come and listen. Come and pray. Come and confess. Everybody is welcome, not just Epiphany parishioners. Although it will be Zoomed, it will be much better, as you know so well if you ever Zoomed a Mass or even a business meeting, in person.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka