Fish (& chips) on Fridays

May 23, 2011

Fish Fridays are back for the Catholics of England and Wales, or at least they will be come September.  The bishops conference of those countries announced last week that Friday abstinence from meat will once again become obligatory for their flock starting September 16, the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s visit to the U.K.

Some sociologists have argued that dropping meatless Fridays in the 1960s was a pastoral error on the Church’s part.  Meatless Fridays, so the thinking goes, were a significant marker of Catholic identity, and the rapid disappearance of so many such markers contributed to the disastrous erosion of Catholic life and practice which began in the late 1960s.

Still, even if one accepts that suddenly dropping an ancient practice such as meatless Fridays was a mistake, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the practice should be revived today.  Nonetheless, it seems to me there are significant theological reasons to praise the bishops of England and Wales for their gutsy decision.  Perhaps we might even learn something from them on this side of the pond.

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Are we there yet?

March 30, 2011

This Sunday at Mass you might notice an anomaly—pink vestments.  No, the Lenten vestments didn’t get ruined at the cleaner; the pink (technically “rose”) color means we’re halfway to Easter.

The fourth Sunday of Lent goes by the name “Laetare Sunday,” which comes from the Mass’s “indroit,” or opening antiphon, which begins “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”—in Latin, “Laetare, Jerusalem!”  We break out the rose on the third Sunday of Advent, too, when we’re over halfway to Christmas.

There’s something delightfully human in allowing ourselves a splash of rejoicing in the middle of this penitential season.  It’s sort of like stopping at the Dairy Queen for a sundae after passing the halfway point of a long road trip.  Of course, to my mind, Lent still is a joyful season, because penance can—and even should—be done with joy.  Good Friday is a day of mourning because that too is a part of the human experience, but penance does not mean sadness.

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From feast to fasting

March 7, 2011

Last year about this time I wrote a post about food for Mardis Gras, so this year I thought I’d better muzzle my inner epicure and write something about fasting for Lent.  Lent, of course, is bookended by two days of fasting, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but I’m not going to write about either of those fasts.  Nor am I going to focus on the common practice of giving something up, another variation on fasting.  Instead I thought I’d write about that fasting which should be a part of the ordinary weekly routine of every practicing Catholic.

Lost already?  I thought about titling this post the “forgotten fast,” because the fasting I have in mind is the Eucharistic fast, a practice today as often forgotten as observed.

Prior to 1957 the faithful were obliged to refrain from food and drink starting at midnight on any day they planned to receive communion.  This fast was reduced to three hours before communion, and then in 1964 it was reduced again to one hour.  Unfortunately, as has happened with a number of Catholic practices, when a requirement becomes too easy, people stop taking it seriously, and today many ignore the pre-communion fast—if they’ve heard of it at all.

While the amount of time involved hardly constitutes a privation, the spirituality behind the Eucharistic fast is important, and perhaps this Lent would be a good time to rediscover its meaning.  After all, just because we are only required to fast for one hour, that doesn’t mean we are limited to the minimum.

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