Skip to comments.What Ever Became of Advent Fasting and Penance?
Posted on 12/14/2016 8:27:24 AM PST by Salvation
I was explaining to a new Catholic recently that the reason the color purple (violet) is used during Advent is that Advent, like Lent, is considered a penitential season. During these times we are to give special attention to our sins and our need for salvation. Traditionally, Advent was a time when would take part in penitential practices such as fasting and abstinence, just as is done during Lent.
In recent times, though, Advent has become almost devoid of any real penitential practices. Neither fasting nor abstinence is required; they are not really even mentioned. There is nothing in the Missal or other liturgical sources that refers to Advent as a penitential season. While confession is encouraged and the readings of early Advent still retain a focus on repentance and the Last Judgment, the era of the forty-day fast beginning on November 12th is long gone.
During the Middle Ages, Advent observances were every bit as strict as those of Lent. St. Martins Feast Day was a day of carnival (meaning farewell to meat (carnis + vale)). In those days, the rose vestments of Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday were a real indication of something to celebrate: the fast was relaxed for a day. Then it was back to fasting until Christmas. Lent began with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), when the last of the fat was used up before the Lenten fast would begin the next day.
The fasting and abstinence practiced in those days were far more strict than the token observances we have today. There were regional differences in the details. In many places all meat was strictly forbidden during both Advent and Lent, but some areas permitted fowl. Most regions allowed the consumption of fish. Some areas prohibited fruit and eggs. In monasteries, little more than bread was consumed. On the Fridays of Lent and Advent, some believers abstained from food for the entire day; others ate only one meal. In most places, however, the Friday practice was to refrain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without vegetables or alcohol was eaten.
Yes, those were the days of the giants, when fasting and abstinence were real sacrifices.
Todays token fast (required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) isnt much of a burden: one full meal and two smaller meals. Is that really a fast at all? And we are only obligated to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent rather than the entire forty days.
What is most remarkable to me is that such fasts of old were undertaken by people who had a lot less to eat than we do today. Not only was there less food overall, but is was far more seasonal and its supply less predictable. Further, famines and food shortages were relatively common. Yet despite all this, they were able to fast twice a year for forty days at a stretch, eighty days in total. There were also ember days sporadically throughout the year at the change of seasons, when a daylong fast was enjoined.
Frankly, I doubt that we moderns could pull off the fast of the ancients, or even the elders of more recent centuries. Can you imagine all the belly-aching (pun intended) that would ensue if the Church called us to follow the strict norms of even 200 years ago? We would hear complaints that such demands were unrealistic and even unhealthy.
Perhaps this is a good illustration of how enslaved we are by our abundance. The more we have, the more we want; and the more we want, the more we think we cant survive without. We are so easily owned by what we claim to own, enslaved by our abundance.
When I ponder the Catholics of 100+ years ago, they seem like giants compared to us. They had so much less that we do today, yet they seem to have been so much freer. They were able to fast. Though poor, they built grand Churches and had large families. They fit so many more people into their homes. They lived and worked in conditions few of us would be able to tolerate. Sacrifice seemed more normal to them. I have not read that there were any huge outcries during those times, complaints that the mean, nasty Church imposed fasting and abstinence during Advent and Lent. (There have always been exceptions for the very young, the elderly, the sick, and pregnant women.) Neither have I read that fasting from midnight until receiving Communion the next day was considered too onerous. Somehow they accepted these sacrifices and were able to undertake them. They had a freedom that I think many of us lack.
Imagine the joy when, for a brief time, the fast was lifted: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Gaudete Sunday, the Feast of the Annunciation, the Feast of St. Joseph, and Laetare Sunday. For us, Gaudete Sunday just means a pink candle, and wondering what we are rejoicing about. For Catholics of old, these were literally feast days.
I fully admit to being a modern man. I find the fasting and abstinence described above nearly impossible. I did give up wine this Advent, and during Lent, I swore off radio and television. But something makes me look back to the giants of old, who, though having far less than I, did such things as a matter of course.
There were giants in those days!
What Ever Became of Advent Fasting and Penance?
Orthodox Christians still are required to observe a fairly rigorous Nativity Fast, starting on November 15. Fish, oil, and wine are allowed on most days until December 20, then it is more strict.
I recall that Eastern Rite Catholics are stricter than Western Catholics on fasting, but not as strict as Orthodox.
When I became Orthodox, I discovered that even though the Advent fasting is pretty strict, there is no prohibition against Christmas decorations, music, etc. in the home during Advent.
Blessed Advent to everyone no matter how you observe it!
Monsignor Pope Ping!
Random Act of Culture
It went the same way as the fish mongers.
Penance: Made up.
How many times does John the Baptist say “Repent?”
How many times does Jesus use the word “Repent?”
You are sadly mistaken. I will pray for you?
Fasting is an excellent soul cleansing tool. But beware as it will bring your garbage to the surface, often to the point where it becomes overwhelming.
Fasting decreases the production of 5HTP in the enterochromaffin like cells of the upper GI tract and the stomach. 5HTP is the precursor to serotonin.
Serotonin acts as a kind of shock absorber neurotransmitter in the brain by blocking the transmission of negative emotions across the neural synaptic cleft. Prozac is a SSRI or Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor which causes there to be an increase of serotonin in the synaptic cleft by decreasing the re-uptake of serotonin in the pre-synaptic neuron, thus blocking the transmission of negative emotions.
Ordinarily 5HTP and serotonin can not cross the blood brain barrier due to the size of the molecules, but under stress, the blood brain barrier become super permeable. (This also causes allergies when a person is under stress)
Carbohydrate consumption(cravings) is the exact opposite of fasting as it increases 5HTP production in the enterochromaffin like cells, thus the book “Potatoes Not Prozac.”
I include this tidbit of information in a workshop I teach on the neuroscience of prayer.
In my understanding, Penance is the outward sign. No Christian could possibly doubt, of course, that repentance is necessary, but I think there is difference between a change of heart evidenced by a changed life on one hand and following any particular man made ritual on the other. Just my take on it.
We are physical beings: body and soul.
We join ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice of the cross. But neither Christ nor we are purely mental or spiritual beings. So neither is our repentance purely mental or spiritual.
“By my sufferings I fill up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ”.
Paul said this because there truly is something lacking in the suffering of Christ. And that is (I believe) the joining of ourselves to that redemptive suffering. We must take up our cross, and follow Him.
And our cross, our suffering is not purely mental nor spiritual. It is also physical, just as Christ’s suffering was also physical. It is on the ‘outside’, as well as on the inside.
Hope this was helpful.
I have a deadline, so won’t be able to return to this.
I’m disappointed that Msgr Pope did not mention that this very week is an Ember week.
Paul said, “I die daily”.
That sounds like every day, all year, imo. Not just at certain days of the year set by man made tradition.
Yes; Martin Luther. There’s a reason “reform” is in the word, “reformation”.
"How many times does Jesus use the word Repent?
"You are sadly mistaken. I will pray for you?
Repentance means to turn from and turn toward something. You have confused this word with Penance. They are not the same FRamigo.
These are not to be confused with the sufferings Christ endured. Then the passage would imply there was something lacking in the sufferings of Christ. That is not the case. He is talking about his afflictions for Christ. Paul is thinking of the sufferings he will be called upon to endure. He is happy that he can bear these afflictions for the cause of Christ.
The word thlipsis is never used anywhere in the Bible when it speaks of the sufferings of Christ on the cross for sin. It is used to speak of the afflictions that Christ endured before the Cross, not on the Cross.
The sacrifice on Calvary was complete. It needs no supplemental part by man in any way.
What's "Biblical" is quite a bit broader than what y'all think it is.
Then you don't need to repent, you don't need to believe, you don't need to pray, you don't need to read Scripture, etc.
You said it, not me.
I never said those things. I am talking about the price to be paid for our souls was paid in full at Calvary. Repenting, praying, fasting and reading the Word of God are essential to our spiritual well being. But these works are not the price for eternal salvation. Nothing supplants the death of the Messiah on the Cross.
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