Sunday, February 27, 2022
How the Traditional Latin Mass Reinforces Lent as a Fast

It is lamentable that so few Catholics keep the Traditional Lenten fast as practiced by our forefathers in the Faith for centuries. The Traditional Lenten fast - which was greatly watered down since the 1700s - generally constituted the following:

  • Fasting applies for those age 18 or older (but not obligatory for those 60 years of age or older)
  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday: If possible, no solid food. Only black coffee, tea, or water.
  • Mondays through Saturdays: Only one meal preferably after sunset or at least until not before 3 PM. A morning frustulum and evening collation (i.e. the two "snacks") are permitted but not required. No meat or animal products are allowed for anyone, regardless of age - that included even fish in the Early Church.
  • Sundays: No meat or animal products allowed. Abstinence remained on Sundays even when fasting did not.
  • Holy Week (except Good Friday which is covered above): Only Bread, Salt, and Herbs are permitted for the main meal. Frustulum and collation permitted (of bread, herbs, and salt) but omitted if possible.
  • Holy Saturday: No food until Noon. Abstinence including from all animal products continues until Easter begins.

While we have happily seen an increase in the number of Traditional Latin Masses offered over the past decade, few Catholics have promoted a return to the fasting that our ancestors knew and practiced religiously. In fact, even the rules in place as of 1962 are substantially harder than what the average Catholic observes today. The laws of fasting and abstinence were as follows, as described in Moral Theology (copyright 1961) by Rev. Heribert Jone and adapted by Rev. Urban Adelman, for the “laws and customs of the United States of America”:

“Complete abstinence is to be observed on all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday, the Vigils of Immaculate Conception and Christmas. Partial abstinence is to be observed on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Vigil of Pentecost. Days of fast are all the weekdays of Lent, Ember Days, and the Vigil of Pentecost.”

One highly interesting liturgical facet particular to the season of Lent is that every Lenten feria has its own propers. That is, each day of Lent has its own Introit, Collect, Epistle reading, Gospel reading, Offertory verse, Communion verse, and Post Communion Prayer. Lent further adds a prayer over the people immediately after the Post Communion. Dom Gueranger notes:

"Each feria of Lent has a proper Mass; whereas, in Advent, the Mass of the preceding Sunday is repeated during the week. This richness of the lenten liturgy is a powerful means for our entering into the Church's spirit, since she hereby brings before us, under so many forms, the sentiments suited to this holy time... All this will provide us with most solid instruction; and as the selections from the Bible, which are each day brought before us, are not only some of the finest of the sacred volume, but are, moreover, singularly appropriate to Lent, their attentive perusal will be productive of a twofold advantage."

Now the actual text of the Lenten Masses underscores the importance of the Lenten fast and repeatedly refers to the fasting done by the Faithful at this time. The Church in Her liturgy assumes and expects the Faithful in attendance at the Traditional Latin Mass to at least be keeping the fasting rules in place as of 1962 - if not the more robust fasting practiced before the mitigations of the preceding centuries.

The Preface for instance not only underscores the ongoing 40-day bodily fast but also mentions some of the benefits of this healing remedy:

It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to Thee, holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: Who by this bodily fast dost curb our vices, lift our minds, strength and rewards bestow; through Christ our Lord. Through Whom Angels praise Thy Majesty, Dominations worship, Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the hosts of heaven with blessed Seraphim unite, exult, and celebrate. And we entreat that Thou wouldst bid our voices too be heard with theirs, singing with lowly praise...

The collect for Ash Wednesday also highlights that day as the beginning of the fast of Lent and not a mere one day fast:

Grant, O Lord, to Thy faithful people, that they may undertake with fitting piety this period of fasting, and complete it with steadfast devotion.

The collect for Friday after Ash Wednesday for instance continues the reference to the Lenten fast:

Further with Thy gracious favor, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the fasts which we have begun: that the bodily observance which we keep, we may be able also to practice with sincere intention. 

And likewise with the collect for Saturday after Ash Wednesday:

O Lord, hearken to our supplications: and grant that we may celebrate with devout service this solemn fast, which Thou hast ordained for the healing both of soul and of body.

In the Mass Propers for the First Sunday of Lent, fasting is referenced in the Epistle while the Gospel reading recounts our Lord's forty days of fasting in the desert. And the collect, while not mentioning fasting, does mention abstinence, as our ancestors regularly kept abstinence even the Sundays of Lent up until the 1800s:

O God, Who dost purify Thy Church by the yearly observance of Lent: grant to Thy household, that what we strive to obtain from Thee by abstinence, we may achieve by good works.

Likewise, in the Divine Office, the ordinary of Lent refers to the bodily fast of Lent. It is a known peculiarity to the traditional Breviary that the ordinary of the Lenten season only begins with First Vespers for the First Sunday in Lent. The first four weekdays of Lent use the ordinary for time throughout the year, a holdover from ancient times before Ash Wednesday was established as the beginning of Lent. 

Starting therefore on the First Sunday of Lent, the prayers of the Breviary further underscore the traditional Lenten fast. In the hymn for Matins for this time, the hymn implores us to keep the Lenten fast. This hymn begins as follows:

The fast, as taught by holy lore, We keep in solemn course once more: The fast to all men known, and bound In forty days of yearly round. 

The law and seers that were of old In diverse ways this Lent foretold, Which Christ, all seasons’ King and Guide, In after ages sanctified. 

More sparing therefore let us make The words we speak, the food we take, Our sleep and mirth, —and closer barred Be every sense in holy guard. 

Avoid the evil thoughts that roll Like waters o’er the heedless soul; Nor let the foe occasion find Our souls in slavery to bind.

The little chapter of Terce taken from Joel 2:12-13 refers to fasting as does the antiphon of Sext: "With the armor of justice let us give ourselves to much patience and fasting." And the same can be seen in the hymn of Vespers which begins as follows:

O kind Creator, bow thine ear 

To mark the cry, to know the tear 

Before thy throne of mercy spent 

In this thy holy fast of Lent.

Turning again to the propers for the Mass, the references to fasting continue repeatedly and include the collect of Monday in the First Week of Lent; the Lesson, Collect, and Gospel for Ember Wednesday in Lent; the collect for Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the Second Week of Lent; the secret prayer for Thursday in the Second Week of Lent; and more. The collect for Friday in the Second Week of Lent for instance prays:

Grant, we beseech Thee, O Almighty God, that cleansed by this holy fast, we may arrive in the right dispositions at the holy feast which is to come.

By the third week of Lent the references continue to refer to the ongoing fast of Lent as expressed for instance in the collect for Monday in the Third Week of Lent:

Pour forth in Thy mercy, O Lord, we beseech Thee, Thy grace into our hearts: that as we abstain from bodily food, so we may also restrain our senses from hurtful excesses.  

The collect two days later on Wednesday asks pardon from God for those who are undertaking "wholesome fasting" who also "abstain from harmful vices."

Abstinence is explicitly mentioned in the collect for Thursday in the First Week of Lent. And temperance - which is strengthened by both fasting and abstinence - is mentioned by name in the collect on Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent. 

The Gradual on Thursday in the Third Week of Lent, which is the exact middle of the Lenten fast, is taken from Psalm 144 and references God providing "meat in due season," which is certainly a reference to the upcoming celebration of the Lord's Resurrection on Easter Sunday when abstinence ends. Hence, by the time Lent reaches its midpoint, the faithful have heard either exhortations or references to fasting in the collects over a dozen times. And it does not end there as the next day's collect on Friday in the Third Week of Lent asks God to "bless our fasts" with His gracious favor as "in body we abstain from food, so we may fast from sin in mind." Similar words occur in the collect for Saturday in the Third Week of Lent.

This is a mere sampling. References to fasting continue. In one more example, the collect for Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent prays:

O God, who through fasting grantest to the just the reward of their merits and to sinners forgiveness: have mercy on Thy clients, that confession of our guilt may enable us to obtain pardon for ours sins.

When Passiontide begins on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the focus in the Breviary and the Mass shifts from the corporal punishment we bear for our sins to an awareness of the suffering we cause our Lord. But even with this focus change, fasting references do not end as seen in the collect for Monday of Passion Week:

Hallow our fasts, we beseech Thee, O Lord: and mercifully grant us the forgiveness of all our faults.

Consequently, the Church in Her Liturgy through both the propers of the Mass and through the Breviary references and expects the Christian faithful to be observing Lenten fasting and abstinence. These repeated references to the Lenten fast unequivocally illustrate how the Lenten fast should be kept by every one of fasting and/or abstinence age who attends the Tridentine Mass. To attend the Traditional Mass and to keep the watered-down, virtually non-existent fast prescribed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law would be schizophrenic. Keep the Traditional Lenten fast and all traditional fasts. 

And for those looking for ideas on what to make to eat on fasting days, the Lenten Cookbook produced by Sophia Institute Press has a section on vegan recipes that is worth checking out.

5 comment(s):

del_button March 1, 2022 at 10:11 PM
Roseanne T. Sullivan said...

Thank you for this much needed summary of the history and liturgical mentions of fasting and abstinence during Lent!

del_button March 2, 2022 at 11:02 AM
laetare34 said...

While certainly meritorious to keep the traditional fasts, to fault those who follow just the current rules would make us no better than the Pharisee in the Temple. We effectively could be saying, "Thank God we are not like those people who follow the 1983 Code!" While each year, I aim to do better at the traditional fast than I did last year, those who fail to live like us do not become less Catholic as a result. The Church is a loving mother that does not expect more of her children than they can handle.

del_button March 2, 2022 at 11:08 AM
Matthew said...

The Lord never critized the Pharisees for fasting. He commanded fasting. But He did critize those who did so for the purpose of receiving praise from others. There is nothing wrong with enjoining the faithful and spurring them on to greater fasts. All the saints did this.

St. Francis de Sales, at a time when fasting was much harder than it was now: “If you’re able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church.”

del_button February 24, 2023 at 3:19 AM
Anonymous said...

Thank you for good explanation Mathew. Intention of fast is so important.

del_button March 4, 2023 at 12:17 PM
Anonymous said...

This article has been a great service to me, in making me aware how lacking I am in my Lenten observances. With Lent already underway, it is going to take me some effort to turn my ship around.

What happen in Church history prior to the 1960's and prior the early 1800's, that it jettisoned such treasures of devotion for our spirituals growth? To be in conformity with the world? Certainly the fruits of the current fasting regime is that people treat fasting as a superficial observance of little consequence to their overall spiritual practice.

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