Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fasting and Feasting

Today's Gospel speaks of the joys that will come after suffering. It's the sort of stuff that you would expect at this time of year. In the early Church the newly baptised entered into a time of further instruction. Whilst what was necessary to make the decision for baptism had been imparted now it was time to face some of the practical realities of becoming an 'adult' Christian ready to impart the faith to others. In essence it's a warning that the times may not always be good but whatever happens they needed to keep their eyes on the ultimate end - of their Heavenly reward.

It's not a big jump to find a connection here with a bit of 'churchy' news this week. The Bishops of England and Wales have determined that from September the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays will be restored. And it's perfectly right that they should do this. Friday abstinence varied in it's application before Vatican 2 indeed often varied between neighbouring dioceses. I remember the story of one friend travelling across the Thames from Westminster to Southwark, on a Friday, so he could enjoy the occasional steak in post war Britain. In their wisdom the bishops may have alighted on the fact that rejoicing all the time without some form of balance can actually undermine the potency of the rejoicing. Before the joys comes the suffering.

However some commentators are opining another more 'sociological' reason for this development. Have Catholics become less distinctive, to their own detriment, from the rest of society? Do they need things that set them apart?  It would be interesting if this was the case as it would suggest that the years of integrating at all costs may be drawing to a close.  The significance of suffering for Christian life is perhaps one of the things that has got severely sidelined over the years. The application of ones' own sufferings for the benefit of others, surely a very distinctive element of the Catholic faith, is something that probably disappeared from most catechetical plans a long time ago. Perhaps with this significant step from one Bishops' conference the theology that lies behind feasting and fasting might be heard again.


  1. It would be nice to see a strong Catholic identity emerge again, distinct from other Christian denominations.

    Perhaps a re-emergent Catholic identity including fasting, the Angelus, the Divine Office and (yes, you guessed it) the occasional EF mass may help to show to non Catholics who are dissatisfied with their faith that they are able to live out their spirituality throughout the day every day in union with the rest of the church worldwide. This as opposed to a short sermon every Sunday.

    Just a thought.

  2. I welcome this move by the bishops of E&W and would like to see the USCCB follow their lead, but I doubt that it will happen. While some bishops would, I’m sure, be open to it, there would not be ‘unanimous consent’ – to borrow a phrase from the US Congress. Without nationwide adherence the witness would be diluted and open to the charge of “regionalizing mortal sin” - as a colleague used to term the vagaries of diocesan regulations.

    Here in Wisconsin the Friday Fish Fry is an institution of practically religious significance - stemming I suspect from the erstwhile Friday Abstinence of Catholicism. So a return to that would be welcomed at least by the purveyors of comestibles, not to mention the parishes that continue the tradition!

    While we know that Friday penance was never abrogated, how many of us really substituted some other form of penance in place of Abstinence? And if we did was it ‘social’ (like, giving to the poor) or personal (like, reparation for our own sins)…?
    A return to Abstinence would be a reminder to us that penance is something we all need – a recognition of our own sins, the shortness of this life and the need for reparation. And that would be a timely reminder!


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