Author Topic: The Power, Value and Importance of Fasting: Medieval Lenten Practices.  (Read 264 times)

Offline Xavier

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Please share good material on this thread for meditation on the power of fasting and other reparation. Fasting and prayer makes the impossible possible. Fasting and prayer can save souls. Fasting and prayer can end wars. Fasting and prayer can change the world. This is from Angelus Press.

THINK LENT IS TOUGH? TAKE A LOOK AT MEDIEVAL LENTEN PRACTICES

https://angeluspress.org/blogs/tradition/think-lent-is-tough-take-a-look-at-medieval-lenten-practices

Today’s Latin Catholics would be well-served to review the norms of early Christians as they prepared for Easter.
The Lenten fast for Latin Catholics living in the years of the third millennium of Christianity often means swapping out the lunchtime burger for a Filet-o-Fish, and attending Stations of the Cross sporadically. But the Church has, up to the time of major reforms in the 1960s, encouraged its children to not do the bare minimum, but to immerse themselves in the spirit of Lenten penance.

The requirements and practices during the first millennium after Our Lord were extraordinarily stringent by today’s terms, having been relaxed bit by bit, until they are almost nonexistent today. Archbishop Lefebvre noted this in a letter written to faithful in 1982:

The faithful who have a true spirit of faith and who profoundly understand the motives of the Church…will wholeheartedly accomplish not only the light prescriptions of today but, entering into the spirit of Our Lord and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, will endeavor to make reparation for the sins which they have committed and for the sins of their family, their neighbors, friends and fellow citizens."

Today, only the Eastern Christian churches (many of which are not in communion with Rome) practice austerity during Lent, albeit unevenly. For instance, meat, fish, dairy, and oil are generally prohibited during the Lenten season, though there are few restrictions on the amount of Lenten-approved food that may be consumed. Moreover, certain fasting disciplines are subject to regional practice and cultural variations with local priests and bishops having more direct say in offering dispensations for those entrusted to their care.

Black Fasts and Watery Beer

We can learn much from our Latin ancestors’ observance of the Lenten Quadragesima and perhaps follow their example; if not entirely in practice, at least in spirit, as recommended by the Archbishop. In a recent post on his site, Dr. Taylor Marshall, a former Episcopalian priest who is now Catholic, collected the rules for Lenten penance as described by St. Thomas Aquinas:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were “black fasts.” This means no food at all.
Other days of Lent: no food until 3pm, the hour of Our Lord’s death. Water was allowed, and as was the case for the time due to sanitary concerns, watered-down beer and wine. After the advent of tea and coffee, these beverages were permitted.
No animal meats or fats.
No eggs.
No dairy products (lacticinia) – that is, eggs, milk, cheese, cream, butter, etc.
Sundays were days of less liturgical discipline, but the fasting rules above remained.

Bread, Salt, Vegetables

Essentially, medieval Western Christians subsisted on bread, vegetables and some salt during Lent. Fish was permitted, though uncommon. This was consistent with the desire of the Church for its faithful to refrain from flesh meat (St. Thomas equates Our Lord giving up His Flesh for us) and to strive for greater control over our own bodies, with abstinence from the marriage act as an additional form of self-mortification.

Beyond the daily penances, the Triduum was more severe than even the “Black Fast” mentioned earlier. The Good Friday fast began as early as sundown on Maunday Thursday, lasting through the noon hour on Holy Saturday – when the early Church performed the Easter Vigil.

But as early as 800 A.D., the 3pm fasting time was generally moved more towards noon. In fact, “noon” is a derivative of “Nones,” the 9th hour of the Divine Office, said at about 3pm. Why do we call 12pm “noon” and not 3pm? During Lent, the monasteries would often move the recitation of nones as early as 12pm, in order to provide the working monks and laborers an opportunity to break their fast earlier in the day. Hence the exclamation by exhausted brothers and laborers of “Nones!” entering the vernacular. A remnant of this shift is still detectable in the rubrics for reciting the Roman Breviary up until the 1960s; None was prescribed to be recited in the morning before Mass.

Cathedrals Built on Dairy

There is some confusion on the matter of dairy—some writings of early monks in the 6th century mentioned the taking of milk during Lent. Whether rules fluctuated or this was simply because of lack of any other food is unclear. But at least by the time of St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, this was a norm.

It is interesting to note, however, that records dating back to 900 A.D. show that German Catholics could receive permission to consume dairy in return for good works, or a contribution to a pious work – known as Butterbriefe. Several churches are said to have been partially built by the proceeds of such exemptions. One of the steeples of Rouen cathedral was for this reason known as the "Butter Tower."

This general prohibition of eggs and milk during Lent is perpetuated in the common custom of blessing or making gifts of eggs at Easter, and in the English usage of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday – a way to use up the eggs and milk before the Lenten fast. Hence the colloquial term still used by some today of “Pancake Tuesday.”

From Watered-Down Beer to Watered Down Penance

Gradually, papal indults would give way to an abrogation of these fasting rules on Sundays, and the allowance of meat at least once on all the days of Lent except Fridays and Ash Wednesday.

A small meal after the main “break fast” at Nones was eventually allowed in the evening, during which Cassian’s book Collationes was read, giving rise to the term "collation" used for the small snack allowed during fast days.

Finally, Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini reduced Lenten practice to two lines: No meat allowed on Fridays in Lent, and 1 meal with 2 collations allowed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

While Archbishop Lefebvre did not recommend a reverse to the practices of the 13th century, we can certainly take his words as encouragement to follow a more strict observance of the spirit of Lent.

Would we dare to say that this necessity is less important in our day and age than in former times? On the contrary, we can and we must affirm that today, more than ever before, prayer and penance are necessary because everything possible has been done to diminish and despise these two fundamental elements of Christian life.”
.Mary, our Heavenly Mother, implores those who receive Holy Communion Daily, or at least Weekly, to Offer their Lives. TEXT OF THE LIFE OFFERING, adapted and pluralized: Dear Lord Jesus, before the Holy Trinity, Our Heavenly Mother, and the whole Heavenly Court, united with Your most Precious Blood and Your Sacrifice on Calvary, We hereby Offer our whole Lives to the Intention of Your Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Together with our life, we place at Your disposal all Holy Masses, all our Holy Communions, all Rosaries, all acts of consecration, all our good deeds, all our sacrifices, and the suffering of our entire life for the Adoration and Supplication of the Holy Trinity, for Unity in our Holy Mother Church, for the Holy Father, Pope Francis the First; and for His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. For His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, that they may re-unite their flocks with the Catholic Church, and there may soon be but One Fold and One Shepherd. For all the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, for all Bishops of the Universal Church that they may be true Apostles and Shepherds; and for Priests, Nuns and Monks, for good Priestly and Religious Vocations, and for All Souls until the end of the world. O my Jesus, please accept our life Sacrifice and our offerings and give us Your grace that we may all persevere obediently until death. Amen." https://marianapostolate.com/life-offering/ Please pray this daily and you and your family will be saved. You will avoid Purgatory.

Daily Morning Offering: O my God, in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary,  I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus from all the Altars  throughout the world, joining with It the offering of my every thought, word, and action of this day. I desire to gain every Indulgence and Merit I can, offering them, together with myself, to Mary Immaculate, Whom Thou hast appointed the dispenser of the merits of Thy Precious Blood, especially by means of this Scapular  [Here kiss your Brown Scapular] that She may best apply them to the interests of Thy Most Sacred Heart. Amen.

Consecration to Our Blessed Mother: My Queen, my Mother! I give myself entirely to Thee, and to show my devotion to Thee I consecrate to Thee this day, my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my whole being without reserve, Wherefore, good Mother, as I am Thine own, keep me, guard me, as Thy property and possession." http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/morning-offering.htm

"I am the Lady of the Rosary. Pray the Rosary (i.e. 15 decades; 5 decades is a part of the Rosary) every day to obtain Peace for the World." ~ Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima.
 
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Offline Sempronius

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Yes great things could happen if we fast together..

From Newman

Two things stood out for me

1) Next I observe, that our Saviour's fast was but introductory to His temptation. He went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, but before He was tempted He fasted. Nor, as is worth notice, was this a mere preparation for the conflict, but it was the cause of the conflict in good measure. Instead of its simply arming Him against temptation, it is plain, that in the first instance, His retirement and abstinence exposed Him to it. {6} Fasting was the primary occasion of it. "When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterwards an hungered;" and then the tempter came, bidding Him turn the stones into bread. Satan made use of His fast against Himself.

2) Of course, it is always, under God's grace, a spiritual benefit to our hearts eventually, and improves them,—through Him who worketh all in all; and it often is a sensible benefit to us at the time. Still it is often otherwise; often it but increases the excitability and susceptibility of our hearts; in all cases it is therefore to be viewed, chiefly as an approach to God—an approach to the powers of heaven—yes, and to the powers of hell. And in this point of view there is something very awful in it.
 
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Offline awkwardcustomer

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Wonderful, Xavier.  Thank you for posting this.

They did things differently in the Middle Ages.  Strict Fasting and infrequent Holy Communion was the norm, whereas today it's the opposite. Lax fasting is permitted and frequent, even daily, Holy Communion is held up as the ideal.   

Are we more indulgent and demanding than they were?
And formerly the heretics were manifest; but now the Church is filled with heretics in disguise.  
St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 15, para 9.

And what rough beast, it's hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
WB Yeats, 'The Second Coming'.
 
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Offline Traditionallyruralmom

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I honestly have never been able to accomplish this, since I have been pregnant or nursing for the last 20 years.  This year I planned on doing my best to be more strict in fasting, and then I got a positive pregnancy test  :)

We fast from desserts and other dainties, as well as media.  We decided the children who had made their first communion, as well as husband and myself would do our best effort to fast on Ash Wed, but even then, our collations for Breakfast and Lunch were probably more than what would be recommended.  Even that was hard and penitential.  We ate a regular meal after the 5pm Ash Wed Mass, and I think my 13 year old was having major low blood sugar.  Next time I will be sure to send her with some milk. 

Our good SSPX priest said that the hard penances of the past are much harder for us to do, in some cases, impossible because of the soft age that we live in.
Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.
 
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Offline Sempronius

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Wonderful, Xavier.  Thank you for posting this.

They did things differently in the Middle Ages.  Strict Fasting and infrequent Holy Communion was the norm, whereas today it's the opposite. Lax fasting is permitted and frequent, even daily, Holy Communion is held up as the ideal.   

Are we more indulgent and demanding than they were?

Even at the 17th century some priests complained of lax fasting rules. So its been a slow process very early on until our time where fasting is practically abolished.

I read of some monks in America that fast from 14 september until easter. One meal a day.

If fasting is that hard then one should start with rising up early, or do manual labor.
 
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Offline aquinas138

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Wonderful, Xavier.  Thank you for posting this.

They did things differently in the Middle Ages.  Strict Fasting and infrequent Holy Communion was the norm, whereas today it's the opposite. Lax fasting is permitted and frequent, even daily, Holy Communion is held up as the ideal.   

Are we more indulgent and demanding than they were?

Even at the 17th century some priests complained of lax fasting rules. So its been a slow process very early on until our time where fasting is practically abolished.

I read of some monks in America that fast from 14 september until easter. One meal a day.

If fasting is that hard then one should start with rising up early, or do manual labor.

I think the rules started loosening in the late 15th century; I think fish was the first thing permitted. The above rules are basically what's still the rule in the Byzantine tradition, except that one keeping the Byzantine fast in its entirety only has two meals in the first week of Lent, after the Presanctified Liturgies on Wednesday and Friday. Other days would aim for one meal in the afternoon. Relatively few actually keep such rigor outside of monasteries, and in the East, fasting rules are not a matter of mortal sin the way they are in the West.
O unashamed intercessor of Christians, ever loyal advocate before the Creator, do not disregard the prayerful voice of sinners but in your goodness hasten to assist us who trustfully cry out to you: Intercede always, O Mother of God, in behalf of those who honor you!
 
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Offline Miriam_M

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I honestly have never been able to accomplish this, since I have been pregnant or nursing for the last 20 years.  This year I planned on doing my best to be more strict in fasting, and then I got a positive pregnancy test  :)


So you of course have not been required to, and in fact in your case, it would have been foolish.  For different medical reasons, I have also not been able to, even though I sometimes have tried to defy the doctors.

However, there are many things from which to fast for those who cannot do physical fasts, or should not.  We in the modern era indulge ourselves in so many ways, without even thinking that some of our inclinations are indulgences and unnecessary; we have merely become accustomed to them.   In addition -- and maybe also because of medical restrictions and time limitations -- being attached to food per se is not very realistic for me, so detaching from it is less a sacrifice than it would be for some others. However, there are plenty of other attachments which some people would find insupportable to let go of:

ready, regular entertainment (The Netflix fix)
24/7 social media
24/7 news coverage and commentary (radio/tv/on the Internet) -- so opposed to silence!
sleeping in!
long showers/baths
physical comforts we "can't do without"
idle curiosity, idle speculation, idle talk; we could mortify all of that to spend it instead in prayer
procrastination of duties and unpleasant but essential physical work

Those ^ are all part of the modern way of life just as much as meat and dairy are.

Even for the most vigorous and devout Catholic, Lent is not about matching a medieval level of morbidity but about mortifying our flesh and earthly desires, and about sacrifice.  Mortification, sacrifice (for others, as well as sacrifice of pleasure and leisure), almsgiving, and prayer.  We know honestly, each of us, what are the areas of our most pronounced indulgence and what areas we need most to mortify.
 
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Offline Traditionallyruralmom

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Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.
 
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