Has it been a tough Lent? Consider how Catholics around seven generations ago lived it.
For many in the 19th century, Lent meant no meat, eggs, butter, cheese or milk, for 40 days. Nearly every day during Lent also was a fast day — meaning long periods of no eating.
Rules varied by time and place. But before the 20th century, Catholics generally were required to restrict their intake (fasting) or refrain from eating certain foods (abstaining) or both, not only during Lent, but also throughout much of Advent and on so-called Ember Days (four periods of the year of three days of fasting and abstinence), and on most Wednesdays and Fridays at other times of the year.
Earlier generations of Catholics also fasted on the eve of holy days. They celebrated every holy day of obligation (there were as many of 45 of them in the mid-17th century) as a spiritual and literal feast — and every day before the feast day as a famine.
When you do the math, you realize that, back in the day, Catholics were either fasting or abstaining for 100 or more days out of the year.
Why have the rules changed so drastically? Author Jay W. Richards has an answer: “Death by a thousand dispensations.”
Full story at National Catholic Register.
I did not realize that Latin Catholics as recently as a century-and-a-half ago fasted more like us Eastern Catholics.
While we have somewhat different perspectives on fasting, the practices were quite similar.
Latin or Greek, when we return to our roots, in this and other issues, we find ourselves more similar than different. And, that shouldn’t surprise us as we’ve all inherited the Apostolic Tradition.
Big difference, Deacon, would be everything the Latin Rite does in the area of “discipline” is accompanied by the “under pain of mortal sin” edict. This is simply not the case, in the East, Catholic and Orthodox both. I think it goes back the hyper legalism of ancient Rome herself. I find the “suggested” idea in the East much more palatable and encouraging. The Latin Rite simply is self defeating by this sort of always and everywhere using the scare tactics. threatening people with hell if the don’t do the things that would elevate their spirituality, to, presumably, keep them on the higher spiritual road, almost a contradiction in terms.
Regular, more extreme religious observancess of fast and abstinence worked better in pre-modern eras, when people did not have a fast, complex, urban-type, anxiety-ridden, “hurried” way of life– and lived closer to Nature, in more rural and farm communities. I know of Orthodox people who are eager to embrace this type of fasting and abstinence, in their Great Lent and at other times, in their religious traditions. They follow this strict regimen as a group of believers, which is much better– you have a difficult religious observance, but lots of solidarity and support! I have been told that in the final days of their Great Lent, Orthodox people traditionally only take bread and water– that’s really hard! Also, in their home countries– outside of America– I have been told, that the Orthodox tradition is to stand during their Divine Liturgy, which is their Mass– and it is very long! A bench might be provided for the sick and elderly. Standing is a penitential practice. In the days of pre-Vatican II, when all Latin Rite Catholics abstained from meat on all Fridays of the year, that worldwide Catholic tradition gave believers lots of solidarity and support. Of course– there were some half-hearted Catholics who just observed meatless Fridays as a “nuisance” to fulfill, under pain of mortal sin. Regardless, it was a good practice, as a religious group. There is a great deal of religious value in these kind of regular penitential religious traditions. To lead a good spiritual life, closer to God, you need a slower, quieter, simpler life, away from the world, away from the toxic, modern urban environment, closer to Nature, with lots of prayer, spiritual reading and devotions, Mass, and required days of religious fast/abstinence.
The information that I got, came from both Russian Orthodox and Ukranian Orthodox families, some time ago.
These were very unhealthy practices and probably contributed to the much shorter lifespans of those days. I am always disturbed by how many biographies of saints describe them as “sickly”. There is nothing more unhealthy than a fast of bread and water. No vitamins, no protein. I don’t believe God meant any of us to damage our bodies this way. Probably contributed to Catholics becoming Protestants.
Marian, It doesn’t seem Orthodox and Eastern Catholics die younger than Roman Catholics and Protestants. Fasting periods are followed by feasting periods. They still get protein and eat lots of vegetables (like Daniel and the Hebrew young men). Do you know of even one person who left the Catholic Church and became a Protestant over this? See below from the National Institutes of Health:
Look at my namesake bishop. He fasted like that and lived to be 86 in the second century, before he was burned and stabbed to death for the Faith.
They didn’t just have “bread and water”. Proteins and nutrients can be obtained from beans, legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruits.
And fasting is now promoted for health, from 12 hours to 48 hour fasts with only black coffee, tea or water. Fasting promotes autophagy (look it up) and lowers blood sugar and insulin resistance; reduces blood pressure and weight. Contrary to contributing to “sickly people”, people were most likely healthier (and more spiritual…).
Fasting is Biblical. In the Bible, we find a trilogy of fasting, prayer snd almsgiving. That is a good thing for Christians to follow, during Lent and other penitential seasons. Jesus had periods of prayer and fasting. Fasting can actually be good for body, mind and soul. Juice fasting, with juices of fresh veggies and fruits, is one good practice. Fasting and prayer has been known to heal very difficult cases of diseases. There are many good nutrition books that tell you how to fast for good health, particularly, with Juice Fasting. This is never extreme, and is limited to a short period of time. But ignore any of the extreme, radical, “kooks” in the nutrition world. The Church has never recommended extreme practices that some radical, extremist saints undertook on their own. The Church just recommends the usual, very easy and safe practices that we all know. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, all Catholics ages 18-59 are required to fast according to a simple regimen, of only one regular meatless meal, plus two small meatless meals that are like “snacks,” not to equal a full meal. That is a very simple thing to do, with lots of prayer, and attending Ash Wed. Mass and Good Fri. services.
In cultures with periods of sensible religious or health fasting, and eating nutritious foods, with little meat or milk, plus lots of healthy exercise and a more natural, simpler, rural, or farm way of life– longevity is a common trait among the people. There are Orthodox people– monks, nuns and lay people– from the Middle East and Russia, who have been known to live 100 years! People of Western Civilization, especially in America– have had very poor diets, lots of disease, lots of unnatural, “urban” “lifestyle” and stress, and earlier deaths.
I used to like the long Eucharistic Fast from midnight, then to get up and go to Mass early, and then to all go eat breakfast, as a family. Not everyone would always go to Communion at every Mass– you had to be really well-prepared. This tradition was a lot better. A required three-hour fast was also good, for a late afternoon or evening Mass. There was more respect for the Eucharist, in days of long ago, and more belief in the Real Presence.
Agreed. I don’t even understand the one hour fast. At my parish, if you don’t eat in church you qualify because we have long homilies and lots of singing.
It is very important to prepare for Mass, and possibly, for reception of the Holy Eucharist, with fasting, prayer, possibly Confession, and examination of conscience. Reception of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is a tremendous Divine Gift— and must never be taken lightly.
17. Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of “a fast before a feast.” We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.
Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence USCCB 1966
In my Carmelite monastery, we would have this fast with no meat, eggs, butter, cheese or milk. Interestingly enough, the sisters found that not having milk to put in their coffee was the hardest sacrifice.
Does non dairy creamer count as milk ? reading some of the ingredients I wonder .
There are many Saints, Blesseds, and other holy Catholics, including some from the 20th century, who lived on the Eucharist alone. This is miraculous. St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) began living on the Eucharist alone from the age of eight, and continued doing so until her death, 25 years later, at the age of 33. Therese Neumann of Bavaria (1898-1962) a stigmatic and mystic, lived solely on Holy Communion from 1926-1962, when she died. She has a Cause for Canonization at the Vatican.
What did you do with the eggs your chickens laid and the milk from your cows for 40 days?
Sounds like Lent would be a relief to those who had to churn the butter and make the cheese.
I wish they had documented their source on this.
My mother and mother in law were born in the same year. My MIL said they had to fast on Wednesday and Fridays. My mother said just Fridays.
Might be where you lived and whether you had an ethnic parish or not. Guessing.