Tuesday, October 31, 2017
The Latin word for what we call ‘Lent’ is ‘Quadragesima’ which literally means ‘forty.’ The term imitates many biblical images of fasting for forty days (e.g. Exodus 24:18; Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). While all of this is true, Lenten and Easter practices varied in the East and the West as both traditions developed over time. The various Lenten fasts which developed did not always last forty days.
In fourth century, the council of Nicaea refers to Lent as “the forty” before the Paschal feast.[i] Although it is not entirely clear, the grammar of this phrase could be read to imply that one should prepare for forty days for the coming of Easter. One thing that is clear from the council of Nicaea is the fact that whatever the length of this penance, it did not include Sundays, since this council forbade even kneeling on Sunday.
Sunday’s were clearly treated differently by the early Christians and penitential kneeling on Sundays was strictly forbidden. This early discipline later evolved in the Western Church as our understanding of various gestures in worship shifted. Eventually in the Western tradition kneeling became a sign of reverence not of penance.
In the history of the development of Lenten traditions in the western Church there were actually two different focuses. One was on the Baptismal liturgy of catechumens who were journeying towards the Easter Vigil to be baptized and received in to the Church. The second tradition involved a rite for reconciling adult penitents. Initially these penitents were those who were excommunicated and were in the process of being reconciled to the Church. In 1091 AD, Pope Urban II changed this and required all the faithful to receive ashes in what became Ash Wednesday. Over time the penitential aspect alone became the focus of Lent.
Second Vatican council wished to restore the original double focus on baptism and penance. The fathers note, “The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.” (SC 109).
What are the implications for the Sundays in Lent? Can we solve this with Math? According to the modern General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (2011), “The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive.” If you get a calendar out you would see that this year there are 20 days of Lent in February but only 24 days (23.5?) of Lent in March for a total of 44 days. There are 6 Sundays in Lent. Using these numbers you would not achieve the ‘biblical number’ forty by subtracting the six Sundays that occur within Lenten session. Does this prove that we should fast and abstain on Sunday’s? Or perhaps two of the Sundays?
Several points need to be noted. First the definition of Lent as excluding half of Holy Thursday, the whole of Good Friday and Holy Saturday only came about in 1969. These three days are now called the Triduum and are no longer considered part of the session of Lent. In other words, the numbers did actually work until this recent change. But now is the number ‘forty,’ merely figurative?
Notice that even in the current definition of Lent, Easter waits for us to complete the Triduum, and there are two more days of serious penance in the Triduum which still brings the total to forty days of penance excluding Sundays. The penitential disciple of Lent is still forty days even if the season of Lent is now shorten by the Triduum.
We must not confuse the season on Lent with the penitential disciple of Lent. The tradition of the Church did not require equal penances on each day of Lent, and no penance was required on Sunday.
Someone might say that the Sunday’s of Lent are part of the season of Lent and, therefore, must continue to have a penitential meaning. This is certainly partly true. We do worship in a more reserved and sober manner on the Sundays of Lent. But the fact remains that the penitential discipline of Lent always excluded these Sundays. We might also point out that the lectionary readings of the Sundays of Lent all focus on the catechumenal journey towards the Easter Vigil and not exclusively on penance.
St. Augustine and Sundays in Lent
I have already pointed out that the traditions of Lent have developed over time. One consistent feature has been that the penitential discipline of Lent excluded Sundays. To further emphasize this, I would like to invite St. Augustine to this discussion.
In St. Augustine’s Letter 36, he refutes a rigorist who insists that Christians should fast on the Sabbath (Saturday). This might initially sound tangential but it leads Augustine to our question. Augustine, by the way, argues that we are free to fast or not fast on the Sabbath, and as Christians we are not bound by the Jewish Sabbath keeping regulations.
Augustine also tells us that in his time Christians regularly fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and not just in Lent (36.30) and that some Churches fasted as well on the Sabbath. By comparison, fasting on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) “would be a cause of no small scandal to the Church” (36.2, cf. 36.10, 29). He notes, “For in these questions on which the divine scripture has determined nothing certain, the custom of the people of God or the practices of our ancestors are to be taken as law” (36.2). He makes it clear that not fasting on the Lord’s Day was the standard practice for the Church in Rome, in Africa and in Millan. He also points out that fasting or abstaining on the Lord’s Day was a practice of the followers of the heresy of the Manichees (36.27) and Priscillianist (36.28) which the Church universally rejected.
Fasting on the Lord’s Day is a ‘scandal’ and ‘abominable’ (36.27) though Augustine allows one exception, “unless perhaps someone might be able to extend a fast beyond a week without taking any meal in order to approximate a fast of forty days” (36.27). He does not seem to have in mind someone who is merely, for example, not eating meat for forty days, but an epic fast of biblical proportions. (e.g. “without taking any meal”).
Again the point is that the penitential discipline of Lent always excluded Sundays and further St. Augustine says that fasting on Sundays is a scandal and abominable.
Finally someone might add one more layer to this discussion. The person who is asking about drinking their latte on Sundays in Lent, is really taking about their own self-imposed private devotion. It is interesting to learn about the history of this practice of private devotion.
Prior to Second Vatican Council the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the Roman Pontifical and the approved regulations for the United States (Uniform Norms 1951, Modification 1956) required a rigorous scheme of fasting by all the faithful 21-59 years old. Abstinence could be complete or partial, and fasting allowed one full meal plus partial meals. All week days of Lent had either a fast or a fast and abstinence attached to them. It is very clear in these documents that we were discussing the weekdays of Lent, excluding Sundays.
During World War II special permission was given to local ordinaries to dispense the faithful from these rigorous daily requirements and this permission was extended again in 1949. In light of these dispensations the Uniform Norms 1951, and Modification 1956 for the US included a paragraph which exhorted the faithful to be generous in performing additional voluntary works of Christian perfection.
It seems the wide spread custom of taking on voluntary penance began in the 1950’s. Prior to this people were satisfied fulfilling the demanding norms of Lent. Since these new voluntary acts are not required I guess you can do whatever you want, but choosing to do penance on a Sunday is clearly not in the spirit of Catholic Tradition. One might ask, what would St. Augustine say?
[i] Canon V, Greek text: τῆς τεσσεράκοντῆς, ἵνα πάσῆς, Latin: quadragesimam paschae. In the Greek the word “day’ is likely implied. The construction of ἵνα with a designation of time see Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 476). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. S. B-D-F §382, 1; 393. cf. Pl. Ti. 38c: ἐξ οὖν λόγου καὶ διανοίας θεοῦ τοιαύτης πρὸς χρόνου γένεσιν, ἵνα γεννηθῇ χρόνος, ἥλιος καὶ σελήνη καὶ πέντε ἄλλα ἄστρα, ἐπίκλην ἔχοντα πλανητά, εἰς διορισμὸν καὶ φυλακὴν ἀριθμῶν χρόνου γέγονεν .
Thursday, February 16, 2017
I was struck recently by a note in the Catechism which reads,
“The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”: [SC 9] it must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity.” (emphasis mine CCC 1072).
For many people the Sunday morning experience is all that ever happens in their faith life. Yet this liturgy was intended to be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.
But what does it mean to be evangelized and converted?
The National Directory of Catechesis defines conversion as, “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one's life to his. (NDC, p. 48). To put it more simply “Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple” (NDC, p. 48).
We might be surprised to hear the Church speak of evangelization and conversion in relation to those who come to Mass on Sunday morning. The National Directory of Catechesis describes a new intervention required by our modern world called the ‘New Evangelization.’
The New Evangelization is directed to the Church herself, to the baptized who were never effectively evangelized before, to those who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel, to those formed by the values of the secular culture, to those who have lost a sense of faith, and to those who are alienated (NDC p. 47).
Notice that the intervention of the New Evangelization is directed towards the Church herself, to various groups of people who have failed to make a personal commitment to Christ in spite of being socialized in a parish environment. Although baptized as children, these people have allowed themselves to be transformed, not by Christ, but by the values of our secular culture. In many cases they have lost their faith and feel alienated from the Church.
What does all of this have to say about the ‘Sunday morning experience’?
Some have tried to put the focus exclusively on the Eucharistic liturgy itself. We can celebrate the Eucharist with great reverence, and with elaborate ritual and beauty in the belief that the mystery of the experience of Jesus in the liturgy will draw people to him. While these are very worthy goals, and the fruit of a deepen liturgical experience will greatly enrich the soul, this is not what it means to have the liturgy “be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.” In fact it is clearly not the ancient practice of the Church to try to evangelize through the Eucharist.
The ancient Church practiced something called the disciplina arcani which meant that Mass had two parts. The first part, a liturgy of the Word, was open to anyone who wished to attend, but the second part of the Mass, or the liturgy of Eucharist, was closed and only those who had already experience baptism and conversion were permitted to attend.
The first part of the Mass featured an unabashed scriptural homily calling for the conversion of those present who had not yet been baptized. Then there was a general dismissal of all who were yet unbaptized before the beginning of the Eucharist proper.
In the fourth century, young St. Augustine was converted by the preaching of St. Ambrose of Milan during repeated visits to Ambrose’s homilies. We no longer practice the discipline of a general dismissal of the unbaptized, but surely the first part of the Mass should still be directed to helping those who attend to achieve a personal commitment to Christ. In the spirit of the New Evangelization the homily must also gently challenge the values of our secular culture when they conflict with the Gospel but we must do so in a manner which does not alienate our listeners. This should be a gentle portrayal of both truth and human freedom and be aimed at the heart. Our goal is always conversion.
In one version of the dismissal in the concluding rites of the Mass the deacon admonishes the congregation with the words, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We are sent out into the midst of the world to proclaim the good news. We are reminded of our common sacred calling to ensure that our liturgy must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.
To get a better idea of how we might realign parish life for the New Evangelization I highly recommend the following video by the Office of New Evangelization from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.Share |
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
On the traditional calendar the three Sundays prior to Lent are termed, Septuagesima; Sexagesima and Quinquagesima (this year Feb. 12 Feb. 19 and Feb. 26). This period of time was intended a preparation for more rigorous time of penance to follow during Lent.
On this theme I offer some quotes from several Sermons by St. Augustine on 'penitents' or why merely giving up chocolate might miss the point of the Lenten season.
1. Penitents, penitents, penitents-if, that is, you really are penitents, really are sorry for your sins, and not just treating the whole thing as a joke! Change your mode of life, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20). I mean, you are just indulging yourselves, while still in chains. "What chains?" you ask.
“What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18). You hear how you are bound, and you think you can take God in? You perform the penance, you kneel down-and you laugh, and snap your fingers at God's patience? If you're a penitent, repent; if you don't repent, you're not a penitent. So if you do repent, if you're really sorry, why go on doing the bad things you did? If you're sorry for having done them, don't go on doing them. If you still do go on doing them, you're certainly not a real penitent. (Sermon 351.1) (Trans Edmond Hill, WSA III/10)
8. Yesterday I warned you, and I'm warning your graces again that the resurrection of Christ is only in us if we live good lives; if our old bad life dies, and the new one makes progress every day. There are a great many penitents here; when hands are laid on them, there is an extremely long line. "Pray, penitents-and the penitents go out to pray." I examine the penitents, and I find people living bad lives. How can you be sorry for what you go on doing? If you're sorry, don't do it. If you go on doing it, though, the name's wrong, the crime remains.' Some people have asked for a place among the penitents themselves; some have been excommunicated by me and reduced to the penitents' place. And those who asked for it themselves want to go on doing what they were doing, and those who have been excommunicated by me and reduced to the penitents' corner don't want to rise from there, as though penitents' corner were a really choice spot. It ought to be a place for humility, and it becomes a place for iniquity.
It's you I'm talking to, you that are called penitents and are not so, it's you I'm talking to. What am I to say to you? Can I praise you? On this point I cannot praise you (1 Cor 11 :22), I can only groan and moan. And what am I to do, having become a cheap song? Change your ways, I beg you, change your ways. The end of life is totally uncertain. Every one of us is riding for a fall. 20 You are all putting off living good lives, thinking that life will be long. You're thinking of a long life, and not afraid of a sudden death? But all right, let it be a long one; and I look for one real penitent, and I can't find one. How much better a long, good life will be, than a long, bad one! Nobody wants to put up with a long, bad dinner, practically everybody wants to have a long, bad life. (Sermon 232.8) --(Trans Edmond Hill, WSA III/7)
6. A word now to the penitents: what is it that you are doing? You know very well-you are doing nothing! What's the use of your humbling yourselves,  if you don't change your behavior? A word to the catechumens: be impatient and on fire in your determination to receive grace. But choose for yourselves the right people in the Church of God to imitate. If you don't find any-woe is me, my God! What am I saying, "If you don't find any"? So is there not a single one among the faithful for you to find? So many years I have been baptizing so many people, and all for nothing, if there are none among them who keep what they have received, and take care of what they have heard. God forbid I should believe that! It would be better for me to stop being your bishop, if that's how it is. But I hope, I believe that there are such people.
All this, however, puts me in the wretched position of being compelled very often to know who the adulterers are, while I cannot know who the chaste people are. What I can rejoice over is hidden and private, what causes me torment is out in the open and public. So then, catechumens, be filled with desire for the grace of God, choose the right people to imitate, to associate with, and to join with in the delightful conversations of charity. Don't listen to malicious gossip. Malicious conversations corrupt good behavior (1 Cor 15:33). Live like ears of corn among the weeds; put up with the distresses of this world, like grain on the threshing-floor. The winnower is going to come. Nobody should set up as a thoroughgoing, all-round separator of the two during this age.  (Sermon 392.6)---[(Trans Edmond Hill, WAS III/10, p. 424-425.]
17. By taking their place publicly in the ranks of the paenitentes, in the "sin bin”
18. That is, to receive baptism, for which a common name among African Christians was "grace."