Skip to comments.Lent and Fasting
Posted on 03/04/2003 12:41:05 AM PST by nickcarraway
Dear Grace: Someone recently asked me why Catholics have Lent and also why we do not fast for the entire forty day period. Could you please explain the message behind Lent and why we do not fast every single day of the forty days?
As Christians, in everything we do, we should have as our model Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us that "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and he fasted forty days and forty nights" (Matthew 4:1-2). The season of Lent is a commemoration of Our Lords fast, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. It was a time of preparation for the tremendous mission that lay before Him. To do this, He denied Himself food and water during those forty days and nights, relying instead only on God (with whom He was One) to sustain Him.
In the history of the Church, Lent has undergone much development and change, both in duration and in practice. In other words, it was not always forty days in length and the fast was not always observed the same way. For example, during the late second century, the season of penance before Easter was much shorter and some people fasted for one day, others for two days, and others for a greater number of days. The first clear mention and observance of the forty days does not come to us until the fourth century in the decrees of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.
What we see from some of the earliest references is that originally the season of Lent was meant as a preparation for baptism or as a time in which people sought absolution from God for their sins. Even though fasting and abstinence were part of the practice, there was no uniform manner in which this was done. That came later. It was observed differently in various countries. In Rome, where it had been customarily three weeks, it was eventually extended to six weeks, but always leaving out the Sundays. Because this made the Lenten season only thirty-six days in duration, with time it was lengthened by adding four more days, making it forty, in remembrance of Jesus fast in the desert.
As to why most Catholics do not fast the entire forty days of Lent, the Church in fact strongly recommends that we do so, but leaves it to us to decide for ourselves. On November 18, 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul VI's constitution Pænitemini, published some norms on penitential observance. In one part of the document, they specifically wrote about what is expected and recommended for all Catholics during the entire season of Lent. They stated: We ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten season a period of special penitential observance.
In addition to making it clear that we are bound by obligation to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and to abstain from meat on every Friday of Lent, they also added the following: For all other weekdays of Lent, we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting.
Remembering that fasting is a form of penance and self-denial, we must keep in mind that we are urged to do this during the entire season of Lent, but it does not have to be a fast from food on all those forty days. For example, those Catholics whose health would be compromised, such as the sick, are not bound to observe the Church's laws of fast and abstinence. But there are many other ways in which we can show God how sorry we are for our sins. Among them are the following: being generous with others, visiting the sick and lonely, feeding the poor, studying Scripture, making the Stations of the Cross, praying the rosary, practicing self-control, and many others.
Even when the US Bishops no longer required the faithful to abstain from meat on all the other Fridays of the year, it was never their intention that we should discontinue this practice. What they had hoped was that people would continue to do it out of their love for God and not because they were required to, and also to give us an opportunity to deny ourselves in other ways. Friday has never ceased to be a day of penance and self-denial, and abstaining from meat on that day is given first place, because it was on a Friday that our Lord died for our sins.
Every Friday is a day to prepare for Sunday, the day that, for us who believe, is Easter every week of the year. And Sunday is never a day of fasting (not even during Lent). It is the glorious Day of the Lord!
This is also my first traditional Lent observance. (My first ever). I'm not dreading it, as the preist warned against Sunday, but looking forward to the challenge.
Is there also an age "exemption" included in the Church laws for Lent? I believe it's ages 9-59 for the fasting rules. Regardless of that, the "patriarch" of the company I work for is a 75+ year-old traditionalist to whom age means nothing. He fasts like he's 20, and also often labors hard through the day. I've never seen anyone like him...
PS - the calendar is indeed very handy. Would yours happen to be printed by TAN Publishers?
I remember, as a kid attending Catholic school, taking our peanutbutter and jelly or fried egg sandwitch to school to eat 'after Mass'.
That is the case for all real Roman Catholics to this day. We got the regulations at Mass this week and they are posted on the refrigerator. One full meal with meat (except on days of abstinence) and two meals without meat that together do not equal one full meal. Them's the rules. Ignore them and you commit a mortal sin. No free rides in God's own Church.
On the contrary. I am only consuming and wearing things French. French brie while wearing my Hermes ties. I think our Holy Father has made the Catholic Church's position on this war very clear. You cannot be a Catholic during Lent and long for the bombing of innocent Iraqi Christians -- including Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, who is a Roman Catholic.
Congratulations! Welcome, friend. God bless you and give you strength!
Yes indeed it would. I ordered 6 to get the quantity discount and gave away the other 5 to friends and family. I ordered the "Saints and Mary" calendar. They had another option which I forget. Some of the conservative Catholic newspapers advertise another traditional calendar which I was tempted to order. But I saw one that belonged to a fellow church member, and it was on plain buff card stock with 1-color printing. The TAN calendar is very nicely printed.
Partially. I cheat a little bit by having tea (or coffee if I'm having trouble waking up). In the stricter version of the old rules, even water broke the communion fast. But in the Pius XII version from the 1950s you could take plain liquids, and the midnight fast was changed to 3 hours (which made afternoon and evening Mass schedules possible). We have an 11:30 Mass which means that I don't eat anything until after 12:30. But my body seems to know that it's Sunday and doesn't give me any trouble. My biggest problem is the temptation to pig out on the doughnuts after Mass.
Our whole family never eats meat on Friday. However, we don't take it with the seriousness of a mortal sin, although perhaps we should.
I particularly am a fan of the strict communion rules because it gives a ready-made excuse to anyone not attending communion. In the new rite, with the fasting rules that allow you to be eating on the steps on your way into church (if it's going to be a long Mass), you're practically making a public confession of mortal sin by not going up to communion. This problem is exacerbated when some parishes have ushers that come to each row and look at each person as if to ask "So why aren't you going up?" Often, among the hundreds of people at a NO Mass, you won't find 1 not processing up for communion. Remarkable, considering the data about the ubiquitous nature of mortal sin and the neglect of confession. The strict fasting rules, and the more chaotic move to the communion rail whenever the spirit moved you, made it possible for people to avoid sacrilege without everyone noticing.
Vive le France! Why is it that all the traditionalists are sticking with the pope on this issue, while those who are usually "knee-jerk papal loyalists" feel free to ignore his guidance?
Isn't it absolutely hilarious? The pope is a god -- unless he goes mucking around in that "just war" nonsense. How dare he provide moral leadership at a time like this! Outraged!
Indeed. I ate and drank well. And, hope you did too.
To what end?
Yep. Sean Hannity comes to mind. I didn't even know he was Catholic until I heard him on the radio today. He said the pope was flat wrong on the war issue.
9-11 has turned our country (and world) into a very bizzare place. I found myself recently agreeing with (ugh) Alan Colmes on certain privacy issues pertaining to the "war on terror". I'll stop short at saying that I'm on "the liberals' side", because I suspect that their anti-war stance is purely political, while mine is moral.
Also, I just saw Gods and Generals last night, and I loved it. Ted Turner produced this movie, and also made a short cameo appearance in it. I still can't figure out how such a revolting man could make such a great movie...