The History Of Lent part 2.

From “The Liturgical Year” By Dom Gueranger

The whole subject of Lent has been so often and so fully treated that we shall abridge, as much as possible, the history we are now giving. The nature of our work forbids us to do more than insert what is essential for entering into the spirit of each season. God grant that we may succeed in showing to the faithful the importance of the holy institution of Lent! Its influence on the spiritual life, and on the very salvation, of each one among us, can never be over-rated. Lent, then, is a time consecrated in an especial manner to penance; and this penance is mainly practised by fasting. Fasting is an abstinence, which man voluntarily imposes upon himself as an expiation for sin, and which, during Lent, is practised in obedience to the general law of the Church. According to the actual discipline of the western Church, the fast of Lent is not more rigorous than that prescribed for the vigils of certain feasts, and for the Ember Days; but it is kept up for forty successive days, with the single interruption of the intervening Sundays. We deem it unnecessary to show the importance and advantages of fasting. The sacred Scriptures, both of the old and new Testament, are filled with the praises of this holy practise. The traditions of every nation of the world testify the universal veneration in which it has ever been held; for there is not a people or a religion, how much soever it may have lost the purity of primitive traditions, which is not impressed with this conviction—that man may appease his God by subjecting his body to penance.

St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great, make the remark, that the commandment put upon our first parents in the earthly paradise was one of abstinence; and that it was by their not exercising this virtue, that they brought every kind of evil upon themselves and upon us their children. The life of privation, which the kind of creation had thenceforward to lead on the earth (for the earth was to yield him nothing of its own natural growth, save thorns and thistles), was the clearest possible exemplification of the law of penance imposed by the anger of God on rebellious man. During the two thousand and more years, which preceded the deluge, men had no other food than the fruits of the earth, and these were obtained only by the toil of hard labour. But when God, as we have already observed, mercifully shortened man's life that so he might have less time and power for sin, He permitted him to eat the flesh of animals, as an additional nourishment in that state of deteriorated strength. It was then, also, that Noah, guided by a divine inspiration, extracted the juice of the grape, which thus formed a second stay for human debility. Fasting, then, is abstinence from such nourishment's as these, which were permitted for the support of bodily strength. And firstly, it consists in abstinence from flesh-meat, because this food was given to man by God out of condescension to his weakness, and not as one absolutely essential for the maintenance of life. Its privation, greater or less according to the regulations of the Church, is essential to the very notion of fasting. For many centuries eggs and milk-meats were not allowed, because they come under the class of animal food; even to this day they are forbidden in the eastern Churches.