Sunday, September 30, 2012
CATHOLIC CULTURE AND IDENTITY, AND THE EUCHARISTIC FAST AND EMBER DAYS
Some traditionalists are proposing that the Eucharistic fast be extended from a measly one hour before the actual reception of Holy Communion to the three hour fast before Mass that came about in 1957. The original fast was from midnight to the time of Mass, which obviously precluded having evening Masses and saw the proliferation of early morning Masses, such as the Midnight Mass of Christmas!
These traditionalists say that imposing the former three hour fast will help develop a more intentional preparation for Holy Communion and see reverence for the reception of Holy Communion increase.
It may also see fewer people receiving Holy Communion at Mass, even though they may well be in a state of grace otherwise.
I can remember as a child in the pre-Vatican II Church when the fast was three hours, that my father who would get us up at 4:30 AM for breakfast so we could have breakfast and then be able to receive Holy Communion at the 8:00 AM Low Mass or the night before he would ask us if we wanted to eat breakfast or go to Holy Communion.
Of course back then you had to fast not only from food but also from water and medicine!
I'm not sure about the three hour fast, for I fear people will either ignore it or we will see fewer people going to Holy Communion or missing Mass altogether if they can't receive Holy Communion.
From a symbolic point of view, we know from Sacred Scripture that it took the Lord three hours to die and three days to rise from the dead. Perhaps the number three could be viewed as dying with the Lord when we receive Holy Communion within the three hour fast or view the number three as the third day and rising with Him on Easter Sunday? Or is that stretching the symbolism?
I think I would prefer that the fast simply be one solid hour before Mass begins rather than before the reception of Holy Communion.
However, I wouldn't be opposed to the three hour fast for people 18 to 59 and for all others from the age of reason to 18 and from 60 on up it would be just the one hour fast before Mass. What about that? I'll be 60 in December of 2013 so this is very appealing to me.
And while we are at it, why not extend the abstinence from meat and poultry to every Friday of the year?
And why don't we recover the ember days of fasting? On an ember day, one observed the Catholic fast, meaning only one full meal and two smaller snacks that combined did not constitute a full meal and no eating between meals. If meat was allowed, it could only be eaten with the full meal.
Ember days (corruption from Lat. Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence. They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) for the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after 13 December (S. Lucia), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday, and after 14 September (Exaltation of the Cross). The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.
From Catholic Culture:
Since man is both a spiritual and physical being, the Church provides for the needs of man in his everyday life. The Church's liturgy and feasts in many areas reflect the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, fall and winter). The months of August, September, October and November are part of the harvest season, and as Christians we recall God's constant protection over his people and give thanksgiving for the year's harvest.
The September Ember Days were particularly focused on the end of the harvest season and thanksgiving to God for the season. Ember Days were three days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) set aside by the Church for prayer, fasting and almsgiving at the beginning of each of the four seasons of the year. The ember days fell after December 13, the feast of St. Lucy (winter), after the First Sunday of Lent (spring), after Pentecost Sunday (summer), and after September 14 , the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (fall). These weeks are known as the quattor tempora, the "four seasons."
Since the late 5th century, the Ember Days were also the preferred dates for ordination of priests. So during these times the Church had a threefold focus: (1) sanctifying each new season by turning to God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving; (2) giving thanks to God for the various harvests of each season; and (3) praying for the newly ordained and for future vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
And while we're at it, why not recover the pre-Vatican II Lenten discipline? It is as follows:
The Law of Abstinence forbids the use of flesh meat and the juice thereof (soup, etc.). Eggs, cheese, butter and seasonings of food are permitted.
The Law of Fasting forbids more than one full meal a day, but does not forbid a small amount of food in the morning and in the evening.
All Catholics seven years old and over are obliged to abstain. All Catholics from the completion of their twenty-first to the beginning of their sixtieth year, unless lawfully excused, are bound to fast.
As for the application of fasting and abstinence during Lent:
Fasting and abstinence are prescribed in the United States on the Fridays of Lent, Holy Saturday forenoon (on all other days of Lent except Sundays fasting is prescribed and meat is allowed once a day) . . . Whenever meat is permitted, fish may be taken at the same meal. A dispensation is granted to the laboring classes and their families on all days of fast and abstinence except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Wednesday in Holy Week, Holy Saturday forenoon . . . When any member of such a family lawfully uses this privilege all the other members may avail themselves of it also; but those who fast may not eat meat more than once a day.
MY FINAL COMMENT: Would following a stricter regimen for fasting and abstinence create a stronger Catholic culture and unique Catholic identity? Would it draw Catholics closer to one another in Christ? And would it make us more conscious of moderation in life and the need to assist the needy?
I think it would increase our Catholic culture and identity and would never detract from the foundation of our Catholic Faith, the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus who shows us the Most Holy Trinity in a tangible way.