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More Lent from smart people here. 

I wasn’t planning to do another post on this theme, but then I ran across these two homilies of Basil the Great, which are not widely available in English. So I thought I’d toss them out there.

This translation is one made by one Kent Berghuis for his doctoral dissertation Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach. The entire dissertation is available online here. The sermons themselves are in an appendix here.  Berghuis uses some colloquial speech in the translation, as well as contractions – which you usually don’t find in writings of this sort. But as I read it, it did give me a better sense of the homily as a spoken piece, rather than simply ancient writing.

While getting filled up does a favor for the stomach, fasting returns  benefits to the soul. Be encouraged, because the doctor has given you a powerful remedy for sin. Strong, powerful medicines can get rid of annoying worms that are living in the bowels of children. Fasting is like that, as it cuts down to the depths, venturing into the soul to kill sin. It is truly fitting to call it by this honorable name of medicine.

2. “Anoint your head, and wash your face.”The word calls to you in a mystery. What is anointed is christened; what is washed is cleansed. Transfer this divine law to your inner life. Thoroughly wash the soul of sins. Anoint your head with a holy oil, so that you may be a partaker of Christ, and then go forth to the fast.

“Don’t darken your face like the hypocrites.”A face is darkened when the inner disposition is feigned, arranged to obscure it to the outside, like a curtain conceals what is false.

An actor in the theater puts on the face of another. Often one who is a slave puts on the face of a master, and a subject puts on royalty.  This also happens in life. Just as in the production cast of one’s own life many act on the stage. Some things are borne in the heart, but others are shown to men for the sake of appearances. Therefore don’t darken your face. Whatever kind it is, let it show.

Don’t disfigure yourself toward gloominess, or be chasing after the glory of appearing temperate. Not even almsgiving  is of any profit when it is trumpeted, and neither is fasting that is done for publicity of any value. Ostentatious things don’t bear fruit that lasts through the coming ages, but return back in the praises of men.

So run to greet the cheerful gift of the fast. Fasting is an ancient gift, but it is not worn out and antiquated. Rather, it is continually made new, and still is coming into bloom.

I’ll bet you’ve never thought of this as one of the benefits of fasting: it gives everyone a break! Actually – there’s some, er, food for thought. Because for …some of us, planning Lenten meals can be an occasion of stress, can’t it? So why not listen to Basil here? While his rationale might be different than yours, since you probably don’t have servants and are not personally slaughtering animals, perhaps there’s still a point of wisdom to take away – and that wisdom has to do with simplicity.

Who makes his own house decline by fasting?  Count the domestic benefits by considering the following things. No one has been deserted by those in the house on account of fasting.There’s no crying over the death of an animal, certainly no blood. Certainly nothing is missed by not bringing an unmerciful stomach out against the creatures.

The knives of the cooks have stopped; the table is full enough with things growing naturally. The Sabbath was given to the Jews, so that “you will rest,” it says, “your animal and your child.” Fasting should become a rest for the household servants who slave away continually, all year long.

Give rest to your cook, give freedom to the table keeper, stay the hand of the cupbearer. For once put an end to all those manufactured meals! Let the house be still for once from the myriad disturbances, and from the smoke, and from the odor of burning fat, and from the running around up and down, and from serving the stomach as if it were an unmerciful mistress!

Even those who exact tribute sometimes give a little liberty to their subjects. The stomach should also give a vacation to the mouth! It should make a truce, a peace offering with us for five days. That stomach never stops demanding, and what it takes in today is forgotten tomorrow. Whenever it is filled, it philosophizes about abstinence; whenever it is emptied, it forgets those opinions.

 8. Fasting doesn’t know the nature of usury. The one who fasts doesn’t smell of interest tables The interest rates of fasting don’t choke an orphan child’s inheritance, like snakes curled around a neck. Quite otherwise, fasting is an occasion for gladness.

As thirst makes the water sweet, and coming to the table hungry makes what’s on it seem pleasant, so also fasting heightens the enjoyment of foods. For once fasting has entered deep into your being, and the continuous delight of it has broken through, it will give you a desire that makes you feel like a traveler who wants to come home for fellowship again. Therefore, if you would like to find yourself prepared to enjoy the pleasures of the table, receive renewal from fasting.

 

 

Who has received anything of the fellowship of the spiritual gifts by abundant food and continual luxury? Moses, when receiving the law a second time, needed to fast a second time, too.If the animals hadn’t fasted together with the Ninevites, they wouldn’t have escaped the threatened destruction.

Whose bodies fell in the desert? Wasn’t it those who desired to eat flesh? While those same people were satisfied with manna and water from the rock, they were defeating Egyptians, they were traveling through the sea, and “sickness could not be found in their tribes.” But when they remembered the pots of meat, they also turned back in their lusts to Egypt, and they did not see the Promised Land. Don’t you fear this example? Don’t you shudder at gluttony, lest you be shut out from the good things you are hoping for?

 

He speaks a lot about drinking…in colorful terms. Also note that the Lenten fast at this time in this place was apparently five days – perhaps the week or so before Holy Thursday?

 

The athlete practices before the contest. The one who fasts is practicing self-control ahead of time. Don’t approach these five days like you are coming to rescue them as if they need you, or like somebody who is trying to get around the intent of the law, by just laying aside intoxication.  If you do that, you are suffering in vain. You are mistreating the body, but not relieving its need.

This safe where you keep your valuables isn’t secure; there are holes in the bottom of your wine-bottles. The wine at least leaks out, and runs down its own path; but sin remains inside.

A servant runs away from a master who beats him. So you keep staying with wine, even though it beats your head every day? The best measure of the use of wine is whether the body needs it. But if you happen to go outside of the bounds, tomorrow you will feel overloaded, gaping, dizzy, smelling rotten from the wine. To you, everything will be spinning around; everything will seem to be shaking. Drunkenness brings a sleep that’s a brother of death, but even being awake seems like being in a dream.

Basil’s Second Homily on Fasting is at the same site, but I’ll also link to this site – which gives a version that’s a little easier to read. 

Basil begins this homily by likening his task to that of a general rousing his troops for battle. He cites all the benefits of fasting, particular in contrast to greed and licentiousness. Over and over, in different ways he points out that those who indulge themselves are weighed down, slowed down and weakened. He also addresses that desire we have to feast before the fast, working mightily to discourage overindulgence, particularly drunkenness.

 If you were to come to fasting drunk, what benefit is it for you?  Indeed if drunkenness excludes you from the kingdom, how can fasting still be useful for you?  Don’t you realize that experts in horse training, when the day of the race is near, use hunger to prime their racehorses?  In contrast you intentionally stuff yourself through self-indulgence, to such an extent that in your gluttony you eclipse even irrational animals.  A heavy stomach is unconducive not only to running but also to sleeping.  Oppressed by an abundance of food, it refuses to keep still and is obliged to toss and turn endlessly.

And finally, he describes various groups and categories of people and points out how each of them can approach fasting in the most fruitful way. It’s a stem-winder of a sermon! No one’s off the hook!

Are you rich?  Do not mock fasting, deeming it unworthy to welcome as your table companion.  Do not expel it from your house as a dishonorable thing eclipsed by pleasure.  Never denounce yourself to the one who has legislated fasting and thereby merit condemnation to bitter penury caused either by bodily sickness or by some other gloomy condition.  Let not the pauper think of fasting as a joke, seeing that for a long time now he has had it as the companion of his home and table.  But as for women, just as breathing is proper and natural for them, so too is fasting.  And children, like flourishing plants, are irrigated with the water of fasting.  As for seniors, their long familiarity with fasting makes a difficult task easy.  For those in training know that difficult tasks done for a long time out of habit become quite painless. As for travelers, fasting is an expedient companion.  For just as self-indulgence necessarily weighs them down because they carry around what they have gorged themselves with, so too fasting renders them swift and unencumbered.  Furthermore, when an army is summoned abroad, the provisions the soldiers take are for necessities, not for self-indulgence.  Seeing that we are marching out for war against invisible enemies, pursuing victory over them so as to hasten to the homeland above, will it not be much more appropriate for us to be content with necessities as if we were among those living the regimented life of a military camp?

 

Take fasting, O you paupers, as the companion of your home and table; O you servants, as rest from the continual labors of your servitude; O you rich, as the remedy that heals the damage caused by your indulgence and in turn makes what you usually despise more delightful; O you infirm, as the mother of health; O you healthy, as the guardian of your health.  Ask the physicians, and they will tell you that the most perilous state of all is perfect health.  Accordingly experts prescribe going without food to eliminate excessive eating lest the burden of corpulence destroy the body’s strength.  For by prescribing not eating food to eliminate intemperance, they foster a kind of receptivity, re-education, and fresh start for the redevelopment of the nutritive faculty.  Hence one finds the benefit of fasting in every pursuit and in every bodily state, and it is equally suitable for everything: homes, fora, nights, days, cities, deserts.  Therefore, since in so many situations fasting graces us with something that is good in itself, let us undertake it cheerfully, as the Lord said, not looking gloomy like the hypocrites but exhibiting cheerfulness of soul without pretense.

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Let’s go to Mexico City!

Regular readers know the story: when I realized that my older son’s spring break fell during Holy Week this year, the first thing I did was fume, make many speeches in my head, and then decide that No Spring Break For Us this year – we’ll stay in town, and you will Serve All the Liturgies, everywhere.

But then I recalled some thoughts I’d been having the past few years, thoughts centered on my desire to experience Holy Week in a place where they really do Holy Week, with seriousness and  lots of processions. Spain came to mind – Seville’s Semana Santa is renowned – but, well, two things: first, I didn’t want to do the go part way around the world and back in the space of a week. We did that last year when we spent Spring Break in London, and it was a great time, but I didn’t want to do it again. Secondly, well…big, huge, Christian centered-public events in Europe? Isn’t it strange that we live in a time when we might think, “Huh. I think it might be safer to do Holy Week in Guatemala than in Spain.” It all came down to: in Seville, I’d be constantly, nervously looking for trucks and people with backpacks, but in Antigua…I wouldn’t.

For that was my first idea. Last summer, my younger son and I spent a week in IMG_0311Guatemala doing mostly Maya-related sites, and I had originally thought I would try to work a day or so in Antigua, but it was really too far from where we were centered. So when I started the Semana Santa research, Antigua popped up again – alongside Seville as the site of big celebrations. What followed that was a look at the map and the decision that Copan, Honduras wasn’t really that far – Copan is the location of some very interesting Maya ruins that are my son’s bucket list. My original plan then developed: we’d  fly into Honduras, spend the first part of the week in Copan Ruinas, then go to Antigua for the Triduum, and then fly out of Guatemala City. I got so far as to reserve an AirBnB in Antigua and a hotel room in Copan Ruinas. But…

Oh, the airfare! It was pretty high and never budged from the heights. It wasn’t, surprisingly, the Honduras part – it was the Guatemala City leg that was out of sight. They must have very high airport taxes or fees in Guatemala or something (we flew in and out of Belize last summer). I just wasn’t willing to pay over $700 a ticket to go to Guatemala – this conviction was particularly acute because at the same time, I was starting to mull over a trip to Japan for next summer, and heck, we can fly to Tokyo from LAX for $700.

So…a couple of months ago, I started considering a plan B, and an obvious one popped into my head: Mexico City.  I immediately ran it past the boys. Archaeology-Mad 13-year IMG_20180310_144930.jpgold said, without hesitation, “Teotihuacan!” and was all in, while the almost 17-year old, amenable to just about anything, was his usual amenable self. I’m sure he did a calculation of how much money he would fail to make by not being here to work that week, but in the end, his interest in new places and adventures won out.

And did you know Southwest flies to Mexico City?

A lot cheaper than going to Honduras and Guatemala. A lot less travel stress than heading across the Atlantic.

And hopefully…processions and exploding Judases everywhere.

We have a few goals, but no set plans. I may be an obsessive travel researcher (it’s almost as enjoyable as the actual trip to me….), but I don’t plan much. So, I’m sitting here the night before we leave realizing just now that I’m not really sure how to get from the airport to our apartment. And we’ll be there in about 18 hours. I guess I better get on that.

The general goals for the trip are:

  • Teotihuacan
  • Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Museum of Archaeology
  • Various other art and history museum

As I said, we’re spending the Triduum in Puebla. Someone here had suggested Queretaro, and I thought about it very seriously but finally settled on Puebla – it’s a bit closer and just struck me as more interesting.  Or

So…stay  tuned! Check in on Instagram throughout the day and here in the evenings or mornings. And if you have any quick tips for either place, comment here or shoot me an email at amywelborn60 – AT – gmail DOT com.

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A quick reminder:

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We have several of his Lenten homilies – I can’t find them all in English translation online, but what is there…is linked here. I think 49 is my favorite.

Reading these excerpts – or better, the entire homilies (it won’t take long – good Lent prep!) I’m struck, once again, by the continuity of human experience and, consequently, the continuity of the Catholic spiritual tradition which reflects that experience in dialogue with God and what God has revealed. “… for it is equally unhealthy to languish under empty delights, or to labour under racking anxiety.”

No less true today than it was 1600 years ago…

Sermon 39:

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on these arms, let us enter actively and fearlessly on the contest set before us:  so that in this fasting struggle we may not rest satisfied with only this end, that we should think abstinence from food alone desirable.  For it is not enough that the substance of our flesh should be reduced, if the strength of the soul be not also developed.  When the outer man is somewhat subdued, let the inner man be somewhat refreshed; and when bodily excess is denied to our flesh, let our mind be invigorated by spiritual delights.  Let every Christian scrutinise himself, and search severely into his inmost heart:  let him see that no discord cling there, no wrong desire be harboured.  Let chasteness drive incontinence far away; let the light of truth dispel the shades of deception; let the swellings of pride subside; let wrath yield to reason; let the darts of ill-treatment be shattered, and the chidings of the tongue be bridled; let thoughts of revenge fall through, and injuries be given over to oblivion. 

40

Let works of piety, therefore, be our delight, and let us be filled with those kinds of food which feed us for eternity.  Let us rejoice in the replenishment of the poor, whom our bounty has satisfied.  Let us delight in the clothing of those whose nakedness we have covered with needful raiment.  Let our humaneness be felt by the sick in their illnesses, by the weakly in their infirmities, by the exiles in their hardships, by the orphans in their destitution, and by solitary widows in their sadness:  in the helping of whom there is no one that cannot carry out some amount of benevolence.  For no one’s income is small, whose heart is big:  and the measure of one’s mercy and goodness does not depend on the size of one’s means.  Wealth of goodwill is never rightly lacking, even in a slender purse.  Doubtless the expenditure of the rich is greater, and that of the poor smaller, but there is no difference in the fruit of their works, where the purpose of the workers is the same.

42

Being therefore, dearly-beloved, fully instructed by these admonitions of ours, which we have often repeated in your ears in protest against abominable error, enter upon the holy days of Lent with Godly devoutness, and prepare yourselves to win God’s mercy by your own works of Leo the Greatmercy.  Quench your anger, wipe out enmities, cherish unity, and vie with one another in the offices of true humility.  Rule your slaves and those who are put under you with fairness, let none of them be tortured by imprisonment or chains.  Forego vengeance, forgive offences:  exchange severity for gentleness, indignation for meekness, discord for peace.  Let all men find us self-restrained, peaceable, kind:  that our fastings may be acceptable to God.  For in a word to Him we offer the sacrifice of true abstinence and true Godliness, when we keep ourselves from all evil:  the Almighty God helping us through all, to Whom with the Son and Holy Spirit belongs one Godhead and one Majesty, for ever and ever.  Amen.

46

We know indeed, dearly-beloved, your devotion to be so warm that in the fasting, which is the forerunner of the Lord’s Easter, many of you will have forestalled our exhortations.  But because the right practice of abstinence is needful not only to the mortification of the flesh but also to the purification of the mind, we desire your observance to be so complete that, as you cut down the pleasures that belong to the lusts of the flesh, so you should banish the errors that proceed from the imaginations of the heart.  For he whose heart is polluted with no misbelief prepares himself with true and reasonable purification for the Paschal Feast, in which all the mysteries of our religion meet together.  For, as the Apostle says, that “all that is not of faith is sin933,” the fasting of those will be unprofitable and vain, whom the father of lying deceives with his delusions, and who are not fed by Christ’s true flesh.  As then we must with the whole heart obey the Divine commands and sound doctrine, so we must use all foresight in abstaining from wicked imaginations.  For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood, which our crafty and wily foe plies us with more treacherously now, when by the very return of the venerable Festival, the whole church generally is admonished to understand the mysteries of its salvation. …

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on so great a promise, be heavenly not only in hope, but also in conduct.  And though our minds must at all times be set on holiness of mind and body, yet now during these 40 days of fasting bestir yourselves938 to yet more active works of piety, not only in the distribution of alms, which are very effectual in attesting reform, but also in forgiving offences, and in being merciful to those accused of wrongdoing, that the condition which God has laid down between Himself and us may not be against us when we pray.  For when we say, in accordance with the Lord’s teaching, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors,” we ought with the whole heart to carry out what we say.  For then only will what we ask in the next clause come to pass, that we be not led into temptation and freed from all evils:  through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

49

For as the Easter festival approaches, the greatest and most binding of fasts is kept, and its observance is imposed on all the faithful without exception; because no one is so holy that he ought not to be holier, nor so devout that he might not be devouter.  For who, that is set in the uncertainty of this life, can be found either exempt from temptation, or free from fault?  Who is there who would not wish for additions to his virtue, or removal of his vice? seeing that adversity does us harm, and prosperity spoils us, and it is equally dangerous not to have what we want at all, and to have it in the fullest measure.  There is a trap in the fulness of riches, a trap in the straits of poverty.  The one lifts us up in pride, the other incites us to complaint.  Health tries us, sickness tries us, so long as the one fosters carelessness and the other sadness.  There is a snare in security, a snare in fear; and it matters not whether the mind which is given over to earthly thoughts, is taken up with pleasures or with cares; for it is equally unhealthy to languish under empty delights, or to labour under racking anxiety.

And so, that the malice of the fretting foe may effect nothing by its rage, a keener devotion must be awaked to the performance of the Divine commands, in order that we may enter on the season, when all the mysteries of the Divine mercy meet together, with preparedness both of mind and body, invoking the guidance and help of God, that we may be strong to fulfil all things through Him, without Whom we can do nothing.  For the injunction is laid on us, in order that we may seek the aid of Him Who lays it.  Nor must any one excuse himself by reason of his weakness, since He Who has granted the will, also gives the power, as the blessed Apostle James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him949.”  Which of the faithful does not know what virtues he ought to cultivate, and what vices to fight against?  Who is so partial or so unskilled a judge of his own conscience as not to know what ought to be removed, and what ought to be developed?  Surely no one is so devoid of reason as not to understand the character of his mode of life, or not to know the secrets of his heart.  Let him not then please himself in everything, nor judge himself according to the delights of the flesh, but place his every habit in the scale of the Divine commands, where, some things being ordered to be done and others forbidden, he can examine himself in a true balance by weighing the actions of his life according to this standard.  For the designing mercy of God950 has set up the brightest mirror in His commandments, wherein a man may see his mind’s face and realize its conformity or dissimilarity to God’s image:  with the specific purpose that, at least, during the days of our Redemption and Restoration, we may throw off awhile our carnal cares and restless occupations, and betake ourselves from earthly matters to heavenly.

V.  Forgiveness of our own sins requires that we should forgive others.

But because, as it is written, “in many things we all stumble,” let the feeling of mercy be first aroused and the faults of others against us be forgotten; that we may not violate by any love of revenge that most holy compact, to which we bind ourselves in the Lord’s prayer, and when we say “forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors,” let us not be hard in forgiving, because we must be possessed either with the desire for revenge, or with the leniency of gentleness, and for man, who is ever exposed to the dangers of temptations, it is more to be desired that his own faults should not need punishment than that he should get the faults of others punished.  And what is more suitable to the Christian faith than that not only in the Church, but also in all men’s homes, there should be forgiveness of sins?  Let threats be laid aside; let bonds be loosed, for he who will not loose them will bind himself with them much more disastrously.  For whatsoever one man resolves upon against another, he decrees against himself by his own terms.  Whereas “blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy on them:”  and He is just and kind in His judgments, allowing some to be in the power of others to this end, that under fair government may be preserved both the profitableness of discipline and the kindliness of clemency, and that no one should dare to refuse that pardon to another’s shortcomings, which he wishes to receive for his own.

VI.  Reconciliation between enemies and alms-giving are also Lenten duties.

Furthermore, as the Lord says, that “the peacemakers are blessed, because they shall be called sons of God,” let all discords and enmities be laid aside, and let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace.  For with the Father on high, he that is not in charity with the brethren, will not be reckoned in the number of His sons.  Furthermore, in the distribution of alms and care of the poor, let our Christian fast-times be fat and abound; and let each bestow on the weak and destitute those dainties which he denies himself.  Let pains be taken that all may bless God with one mouth, and let him that gives some portion of substance understand that he is a minister of the Divine mercy; for God has placed the cause of the poor in the hand of the liberal man; that the sins which are washed away either by the waters of baptism, or the tears of repentance, may be also blotted out by alms-giving; for the Scripture says, “As water extinguisheth fire, so alms extinguisheth sin.”  

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This is the cover of a pamphlet introducing the new, stripped-down, freedom-o-the-Christian-centered Lenten framework for American Catholics after the Second Vatican Council. It is part of Notre Dame’s Catholic Pamphlet Collection, which was available on archive.org for a very short time – I discovered it one night, and then, it seems as if a couple of weeks later, it had been taken down, I presume because of copyright issues. 

It being the first Friday of Lent, you’re probably going to herethere have been the usual minor rumblings about the purported relative ease of the fast for post-Vatican II Latin Rite Catholics.

Well, here’s my problem with that yearly ritual….

…(the apologizing and complaining, not the fasting, that is)…

The whole idea of the post-Conciliar changes to penitential fasting and abstinence was to present, as it were, a minimum on paper, with the expectation that the individual, flush with the glory of the Freedom of the Christian (and the Spirit of the Council), would take it from there.

The legal minimalism was supposed to unleash an internal maximalist lurking in all of us who had just been waiting to be treated like an adult instead of a child defined by adherence to rigid rules.

The rules are supposed to be minimal. That was the intention of the changes. 

And just a slight detour –

First, St. Francis de Sales had excellent advice on fasting. Read it here.

Secondly, a century and a half ago, people were complaining that the Catholic Lenten fast was too lax. John Henry Newman addressed it, and I talk about it here.  It’s startlingly prescient. Really…life and human nature does not change that much. These words could have been written today:

For example, in respect to curiosity. What a deal of time is lost, to say nothing else, in this day by curiosity, about things which in no ways concern us. I am not speaking against interest in the news of the day altogether, for the course of the world must ever be interesting to a Christian from its bearing upon the fortunes of the Church, but I speak of vain curiosity, love of scandal, love of idle tales, curious prying into the private history of people, curiosity about trials and offences, and personal matters, nay often what is much worse than this, curiosity into sin. … Hence this is the way in which we are called upon, with this Lent we now begin, to mortify ourselves. Let us mortify our curiosity.

So back to the issue of fasting and abstinence.

I think it’s a good idea to read Paul VI’s document on this, as well as the US bishops’.

From Paul VI, in February 1966

The US bishops, in November 1966.

I’m going to post excerpts in a second, but before we get lost in that, I’ll just venture to say that although I don’t think they should have eliminated the year-long Friday abstinence for any reason, in any way, these efforts to deepen a Catholic’s understanding of the practice are really not bad! In fact, Eamon Duffy, in his excellent article critiquing the loss of Friday abstinence, gives the American Catholic bishops a shout-out for offering a much more grounded articulation of the changes than the British bishops did, who, acccording to him, basically said, “We know this is a lot of bother, chaps, so you don’t have to do it anymore.”

In reading Catholic observers of the pre-Vatican II era, we do see concern with a distance between practice and understanding (that was the motive for the Liturgical Movement, as a whole, after all), and the rapidity with which Catholics after Vatican II ditched Friday abstinence without replacing it with any other penitential practice reveals that distance. Long ago, a Catholic blogger recounted his parents’ reaction to the lifting of Friday abstinence – they and their Catholic friends in the neighborhood celebrated by having a huge steak barbecue!

What I see then, is one more example of the misguided nature of the “renewal” of the Church. Instead of truly starting from where people were and what they already practiced, and trying to help people understand that, they moved to a state of minimalism, stripping the hard-to-follow and hard-to-understand stuff away, trusting in an ideal: people, flush in their mature Christian freedom, would just do what the deeper, yet now impenetrable intention of the “rules” had been guiding them toward through the centuries.

Perhaps for some that happened, but for the bulk it didn’t, and the other consequences were dire:

  • Loss of Catholic identity in that shared practice
  • A shaking of faith as Catholics, who had been presented with these practices as an expression of the solid, unchanging rock of the Catholic faith, were told, in essence: “KIDDING!” What was solid and worth taking seriously? What, that the Church taught, could be trusted?

Now, back to it. I’ll just end with two official documents detailing the changes in practice. They are worth reading, and honestly, when you are even lightly familiar with two thousand years of Catholic thinking and writing on fasting and other penitential practices, the call to go deeper than the minimal and just use that as a starting point that is the center of these documents, is not inconsistent with that tradition.

The mistake – and it was huge – was in, really, changing anything. It shouldn’t have been changed, for it stripped Catholic life of a deep connection to centuries of Catholic practice and was too idealistic about human nature.

From Duffy’s article:

The ritual observance of dietary rules—fasting and abstinence from meat in Lent, and abstinence from meat and meat products every Friday, as well as the eucharistic fast from midnight before the reception of Communion—were as much defining marks of Catholicism before the council as abstention from pork is a defining characteristic of Judaism. The Friday abstinence in particular was a focus of Catholic identity which transcended class and educational barriers, uniting “good” and “bad” Catholics in a single eloquent observance. Here was a universally recognized expression of Catholicism which was nothing to do with priests or authority.

Now to the US Bishops, from 1966:

  1. Wherefore, we ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten Season a period of special penitential observance. Following the instructions of the Holy See, we declare that the obligation both to fast and to abstain from meat, an obligation observed under a more strict formality by our fathers in the faith, still binds on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. No Catholic Christian will lightly excuse himself from so hallowed an obligation on the Wednesday which solemnly opens the Lenten season and on that Friday called “Good” because on that day Christ suffered in the flesh and died for our sins.
  2. In keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul’s ConstitutionPoenitemini, we preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent, confident that no Catholic Christian will lightly hold himself excused from this penitential practice.
  3. For all other weekdays of Lent, we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting. In the light of grave human needs which weigh on the Christian conscience in all seasons, we urge, particularly during Lent, generosity to local,national, and world programs of sharing of all things needed to translate our duty to penance into a means of implementing the right of the poor to their part in our abundance. We also recommend spiritual studies, beginning with the Scriptures as well as the traditional Lenten Devotions (sermons, Stations of the Cross, and the rosary), and all the self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of “mortification.”

 

This paragraph relates to Vigils and Ember Days, but I think it succinctly summarizes the whole intent:

Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of “a fast before a feast.” We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.

On the Friday abstinence, year-round:

  1. Gratefully remembering this, Catholic peoples from time immemorial have set apart Friday for special penitential observance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of the tradition of abstinence from meat on Friday where that tradition has been observed in the holy Catholic Church.
  2. Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements, have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.
  3. Accordingly, since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.
  4. For these and related reasons, the Catholic bishops of the United States, far from downgrading the traditional penitential observance of Friday, and motivated precisely by the desire to give the spirit of penance greater vitality, especially on Fridays, the day that Jesus died,urge our Catholic people henceforth to be guided by the following norms.
  5. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified.
  6. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

 

Back to Duffy:

The Church has always linked personal asceticism and the search for holiness with this demand for mercy and justice to the poor; the Lenten trilogy of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is both fundamental and structural. By making fasting and abstinence optional, the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture, the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community—the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy.

 

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