26 February 2020

When does Lent start for mathematical nerds?

No problem about this in the 'New' Liturgy. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. But for obscurantist fuddy-duddies who stick with the Old Rite (and for Ambrosians), matters are far less simple.

The First Sunday in Lent is called in capite Quadragesimae. Lenten Office Hymns don't begin until First Vespers of Sunday. You stick with Pars hiemalis Breviarii Romani until then. And, as Gueranger puts it, "Although the law of Fasting began [on Ash Wednesday], yet, Lent [Careme], properly so called, does not begin till the Vespers of Saturday next. In order to distinguish the rest of Lent from these four days which have been added to it, the Church continues to chant Vespers at the usual hour, and allows her Ministers to break their fast before having said that office. But, beginning with Saturday, the Vespers will be anticipated; every day (Sundays excepted) they will be said at such an early hour that when the Faithful take their full meal, the Evening Office will be over. It is a remnant of the discipline of the primitive Church, which forbade the Faithful to break their fast before sun-set, in other words, before Vespers or Even-song".

The mathematics and history of Lent were sorted out by Canon Callewaert, of Bruges, and Dr G G 'Patrimony' Willis, Vicar of Wing. In case anybody is interested, I give a summary of the facts.

(1) Originally, the only Fast around seems to have been the very primitive Paschal Fast, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Lent hadn't been invented.
(2) For reasons connected with the instruction of the catechumens and the discipline of penitents, a forty-day preparation for this was added to the already existing Paschal Fast. Forty days back from Maundy Thursday gets you back precisely to the First Sunday in Lent.
(3) A later age forgot the distinction between Lent and the Paschal Fast and considered them both just "Lent". It also wished to take account of the fact that, in the Roman Rite, one does not fast on Sundays. To get forty days of fast in before Easter Day, you need 6 X a week of 6 fasting days: = 36 days; + four extra days: = 40; which gets you back to .... Ash Wednesday.
(4) But the Liturgy ... at least, the Divine Office ... endearingly ... never caught up with these latest mathematics ... until the Age of Archbishop Bugnini the Great Elephant Fetichist.

Hence the anomalous status of the four days this week "After the Ashes". A whimsy, surely, in that it took a twentieth century which had pretty well given up even the memory of fasting, to add these four days to the full Lenten status.

Sometimes I wonder why ecumenical enthusiasts never lecture us on the need to follow the Byzantines and to have a real fasting Lent.

I will be fair: I can see the point of Hannibal Bugnini's abolition of the Gesimas and his elimination of the status-anomaly of the days post cineres. Taste-wise, I suppose it's ultimately a question of whether you like your Calendar neat and clean-cut with no little puzzles side-issues to worry you or to intrigue you; or whether you prefer it weirdish and interesting.

Incidentally, S Gregory the Great, taking Lent as beginning on Sunday and ending on the early morning of Easter Sunday, calculated that it consisted of 6X7=42 days; from which you subtract the unfasting Sundays (42-6=36) and then add half a day for the fasting part of Easter Sunday (=36.5 days): which is a tithe of the year!

Sometimes I feel immensely grateful that the Fathers lacked computers. Otherwise, they would undoubtedly have spent their entire time devising ever more arcane mathematics on their flickering screens, and would never written any Theology.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

How many times have we heard a modern priest encourage us to not give up something but to add something - like prayers- as the way to have a successful Lent?

How can that be good advice when the MAP (Mortification, Alms, Prayers) to a spiritually successful Lent has never changed since the beginning of the Church?

Far worse than bad advice about Lent is such advice is destructive because, as was predicted, a decrease in the practice of fast and abstinence has led to an increase in effeminacy and the acceptance of sodomy.

...It was with this intention, that Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, alarmed at the excessive facility wherewith dispensation were then obtained, renewed, by a solemn Constitution, (dated June 10, 1745,) the prohibition of eating fish and meat, at the same meal, on fasting days.

The same Pope, whose spirit of moderation has never been called in question, had no sooner ascended the Papal Throne, than he addressed an Encyclical Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic world, expressing his heartfelt grief at seeing the great relaxation that was introduced among the Faithful by indiscreet and unnecessary dispensations. The Letter is dated May 30th, 1741. We extract from it the following passage: “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, but that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.” [Constitution: Non ambigimus.]

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 its present mild form! The long list of general Dispensations granted, each year, by the Bishops to their flocks, would lead us to suppose that the immense majority of the Faithful would be scrupulously exact in the fulfilment of the Fasting and Abstinence still remaining; but is such the case? 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 the Fourteenth 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. In our own country, there is an inconsistency, which must strike every thinking mind:- the observance of the Lord’s Day, on the one side; the national inobservance of days of penance and fasting, on the other. - The first is admirable, and, (if we except puritanical extravagances,) be speaks a deep-rooted sense of religion: but the second is one of the worst presages for the future. No:- the word of God is too plain: unless we do penance, we shall perish [St. Luke, xiii. 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?


Dad29 said...

Sometimes I feel immensely grateful that the Fathers lacked computers. Otherwise, they would undoubtedly have spent their entire time devising ever more arcane mathematics on their flickering screens, and would never written any Theology.

Well, then, let's thank God that "Bugsy" Bugnini had a computer, eh?