Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 4, 2008
Lent creates space to prepare, remember baptismal promises
Various methods of fasting clears the path to the Paschal Mystery
By ALICIA AMBROSIO
"It (fasting) shows how deeply people's piety took root."
- Fr. Stephen Hero
Prior to the Second Vatican Council all Fridays, not just those in Lent, were considered days of abstinence, a day on which meat was to be avoided. This was because Fridays are considered "like a little Good Friday," Hero said - a day on which to commemorate Jesus' death in some way. Avoiding meat was considered to be a way of doing this.
Similarly "every Sunday is like a little Easter," commemorating Jesus' resurrection. While Sunday liturgies during Lent still commemorate the resurrection, they must also reflect the fact that a special time of preparation is underway.
Thus the Alleluia is replaced with another, often more sombre, Gospel acclamation. Hero calls this a "musical fast," explaining that when Gregorian chant was the standard in church music, the Alleluia was very festive and ornate and seemed unfit for a Lenten Mass. In the Eastern rite churches, however, the Alleluia is sung all year round.
The practice of making Lenten promises or resolutions is also supposed to be a sign of preparation. Somewhere along the line, however, the focus shifted from preparation to repentance and it became normal for people to "give up" something for Lent, Hero said.
In the early centuries, the fast was quite strict, notes the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Christians were allowed only one meal per day, toward evening, with meat, fish and, in most places, eggs and dairy products strictly forbidden. Meat was not allowed even on Sundays.
Starting in the ninth century, this practice began to be relaxed until Vatican II placed the emphasis in Lent squarely on preparation for Christian initiation and on disposing the faithful to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. Fasting is now seen as a means to those ends and not as an end in itself.
Still old practices continue and today it remains quite common to hear Catholics say, "I'm giving up chocolate for Lent."
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