18 February 2015

Feria Quarta Cinerum

The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God's glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.

--Pope Benedict XIV, Constitution Non Ambigimus, 1745

More than a hundred years have elapsed since this solemn warning of the Vicar of Christ was given to the world; and during that time, the relaxation he inveighed against has gone on gradually increasing. How few Christians do we meet who are strict observers of Lent, even in the present mild form!

And must there not result from this ever-growing spirit of immortification, a general effeminacy of character, which will lead, at last, to frightful social disorders? The sad predictions of Pope Benedict XIV are but too truly verified. Those nations, among whose people the spirit and practice of penance are extinct, are heaping against themselves the wrath of God, and provoking His justice to destroy them by one or other of these scourges-- civil discord, or conquest.

--Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, c.1850

The modern fast, of course, is nothing compared to the fast Dom Gueranger calls 'mild' in the mid-19th Century. That is the decision of the Church, who, out of concern for the weakness of her children, has over the ages allowed for relaxation of the Lenten fast (which is of Apostolic institution), and given freely of dispensations in various times and places. It is the decision of the Church what must be obligatory, for she speaks for Christ.  She has allowed such latitude that our present obligatory penitential requirements for Lent (fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence on all Fridays during Lent) ought to be easily and eagerly accomplished.  Yet even this seems too much.

Again, Gueranger:

The word of God is unmistakable: unless we do penance, we shall perish (Luke 13:3). But if our ease-loving and sensual generation were to return, like the Ninivites, to the long-neglected way of penance and expiation, who knows but that the arm of God, which is already raised to strike us, may give us blessing and not chastisement? 

A good point, and one reinforced by today's Lesson from Joel 2: 12-19:

12 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

13 So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.

14 Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him—
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the Lord your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;

16 Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.

17 Let the priests, who minister to the Lord,
Weep between the porch and the altar;
Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord,
And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

18 Then the Lord will be zealous for His land,
And pity His people.

19 The Lord will answer and say to His people,
“Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil,
And you will be satisfied by them;

I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.

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