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The Fasting and Feasting of Lent

The traditional practices of Lenten observance have been prayer, fasting and abstinence. In the past these were rigorously followed to the point of being scrupulous, especially about the number of hours one had to fast and even pray.

The Fasting and Feasting of Lent

Fr. Reuben Tellis
For a long time I have always liked the fasting and feasting materials put up on Church Boards on Ash Wednesdays. This is Lent time and this is a special time for renewal of body, mind and spirit and the readings and liturgies enable us to reflect on just that.

The traditional practices of Lenten observance have been prayer, fasting and abstinence. In the past these were rigorously followed to the point of being scrupulous, especially about the number of hours one had to fast and even pray.

Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making our practices not only simple but also easy. The present fasting and abstinence laws are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one's strength) and abstain from meat; on the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat.

People are still encouraged "to give up something" for Lent as a sacrifice. An interesting note is that technically on Sundays and solemnities like St. Joseph's Day (Mar 19) and the Annunciation (Mar 25), one is exempt and can partake of whatever has been offered up for Lent.

In all this, an emphasis must be placed on performing spiritual works, like attending the Stations of the Cross, participating at Mass, making a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, taking time for personal prayer and spiritual reading and most especially making a good confession and receiving sacramental absolution.

Though 40 days long, but there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Christ's original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.

Christ rose from the dead, however, on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians, starting with the apostles, saw Christ's Resurrection as a new creation, and so they transferred the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday. Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ's Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days.

Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ's fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count. In order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks(with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that's how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent!

Traditional practices of the Stations of the Cross and special preaching called the Missions are normally held in parishes. There is a special collection made called Lenten Alms, which is supposed to be gathering of money that comes from making sacrifices either in the type of food eaten or the purchasing of stuff.

Some parishes conduct Stations of the Cross where bus loads of parishioners go to different strategic places or a central area where prayer and reflection is conducted. In some parishes images of Jesus Christ are displayed every Sunday and there is a sermon delivered. There are some places where crosses are taken from the main church to the communities on Ash Wednesday and prayer activities are conducted. In some parishes, the concept of Carbon Fasting for Lent is encouraged.

Coming back to what I used to see in the Church boards on fasting and feasting, these short one sentence reflections are very effective and meaningful. Lent is a season that calls us:

to fast from discontent and to feast on gratitude;
to fast from anger and to feast on patience;
to fast from bitterness and to feast on forgiveness;
to fast from self-concern and to feast on compassion;
to fast from discouragement and to feast on hope;
to fast from laziness and to feast on commitment;
to fast from complaining and to feast on acceptance;
to fast from lust and to feast on respect and reverence;
to fast from prejudice and to feast on understanding;
to fast from resentment and to feast on reconciliation;
to fast from lies and to feast on truth;
to fast from wasted time and to feast on honest work;
to fast from grimness and to feast on joy;
to fast from suspicion and to feast on truth;
to fast from idle talk and to feast on prayerful silence;
to fast from guilt and to feast on the mercy of God.

(Fr. Reuben Tellis is the parish priest of Mount Carmel, Bandra)

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