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Living a strictest Lent 365 days a year

24th March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

When Lent was really Lent back in the day before Vatican Council II, a younger person went around hungry just about all the time, trying to cope with the Law of Fasting that forbade more than one full meal a day for 40 days, but did allow for a small amount of food in the morning and in the evening. All Catholics from the completion of their twenty-first to the end of their sixtieth year, unless lawfully excused, were bound to fast.

More distressfully than wistfully, I remember that some theologians even dabbled with attempting to translate “a small amount of food” into ounces per portion. Excepting the unfortunate victims of anorexia nervosa, this was a dismal ambience for happy living.

For many, it was even harder to deal with the Law of Abstinence that forbade the use of flesh meat and the juice thereof (soup, etc.). Eggs, cheese, butter and seasonings of food were permitted. Most folks, especially in places like New Orleans, were delighted that seafood was allowed. Only those who, somewhat enigmatically, did not like seafood were not pleased. All Catholics seven years old and over were obliged to abstain.

On the other hand, whether we talk about the old or the new Lenten abstinence, it must be noted that there are people who do not like meat. They are obliged to find some form of substitute penance comparable to the inconveniences of the law of abstinence.

It was easy to understand with laughter that the lawmakers of the Church lived in the insulated, isolated atmosphere of the Vatican in faraway Rome. Imagine ordering the salivating citizens of the Gulf Coast to do penance by eating seafood instead of meat! All I can say in their name as their friend and advocate is, “Send us more penance like that!”

Using a deft touch of conviction and seduction via TV and radio, Gulf Coast restaurants bombard Christians with Lenten seafood menus equal to the desires and requirements of the most elegant and exquisite soirees, gala celebrations and festive banquets. It takes an ingenious imagination to work such menus into acts of penance.

Practically child’s play by comparison with the old, the current law of fast requires that everyone from the age of 18 to 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is astounding that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) prescribes this fast for only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – just two of 40 days.

Current law obligates everyone 14 or older to abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. It is not generally known that the legendary no-meat-on-Friday law was not eliminated but changed to require that everyone 14 or older must either abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on all Fridays of the year or substitute some other form of penance commensurate to abstinence from meat. Perhaps most Catholics still eat fish on Friday.

Moral theologians excuse people from fasting and/or abstinence for reasons of sickness, pregnancy, nursing mothers, mentally-ill individuals, people who are frail, as well as guests who cannot excuse themselves without offending the host. As a vegan, I have learned to school people quickly on my food regimen without offending a host.

As if miffed by the new lax laws on fasting and abstinence, most Traditionalists fast for all 40 days, according to the pre-Vatican II practice. They also abstain year-round on ALL Fridays and Ember Days (formerly at the beginning of the four seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence). Traditionalists also fast during Advent.

By the way, Traditionalists – not to be confused with everyday traditional Catholics – believe that there should be a restoration of many or all of the liturgical forms, public and private devotions and presentations of Catholic teachings that were prevalent in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).

As long as they are intent on true repentance and penance, those Traditionalists are within their rights in following the fast and abstinence disciplines of pre-Vatican II. However, their mortal fault lies in their holier-than-thou attitude that not only disagrees with but disdains the leadership of the Pope and bishops worldwide.

They – and we – must always be aware of the Master’s words to the Pharisees who criticized his reaching out to sinners in Matthew 9:12-13, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

We can be­gin to espouse this call by fast­ing from our surplus of material things, in­clud­ing the glut of foods that we don’t need; by adopting whole­some habits directed toward helping and caring for others; by giving alms, thus helping and healing our sisters and brothers in need; by devoting ourselves to prayer for all, including our enemies.

This article originally published in the March 17, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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