PRE-LENT – A TIME FOR INTROSPECTION AND REFLECTION IN PREPARATION FOR LENT
Did you know that if we were still using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, we would be in a season known as “Pre-Lent?” Some of you who are fond of the old prayer book probably remember well the “Gesima” Sundays. These were the three Sundays that preceded Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. Other than the Episcopal, Anglican, and Roman parishes who still use more traditional kalendars, The Eastern Orthodox Church is the only church that keeps an intentional pre-lent season.
I find it unfortunate that the 1979 Kalendar did not include these days in it’s revised Kalendar, as it is a way of signaling to the church that Lent is on the way. So, I invite you, in the midst of the old “pre-Lent” to prayerfully discern what God is calling you to fast and what works of mercy God may be asking you to take on this Lent.
I also thought it might be helpful to provide a little direction concerning fasting and abstinence during the Lenten season.
Fasting and Abstinence is outlined on page 17 of the Book of Common Prayer. The two major fast days per our calendar are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Beyond this, it is noted, “The following days are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial:
Ash Wednesday and the other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week, except the feast of the Annunciation.
Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday.”
While the Episcopal church doesn’t actually specify exactly what to fast, it is no secret that this is one of the many traditions that carried over from our catholic roots. So, if you are wanting to fast in solidarity with a majority of the western church, it might be helpful to see how our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters spell out fasting and abstinence. This is understood to be the minimum during the season of Lent.
What is the Lenten Fast in the Roman Catholic Church?
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence for Roman Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence.
Fasting: Fasting generally means that we have only one meal during that day and two smaller meals that equate to about one meal and no food between meals.
Abstinence: Abstinence means abstaining from meat (with the exception of seafood).
Thus Ash Wednesday is a day of both fasting and abstinence (one meal and two smaller meals and no meat except seafood); and Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence (no meat except for seafood).
The Paschal Fast:
The Triduum are the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Traditionally this has been a fast that begins the evening of Maundy Thursday. If possible, the fast is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection. Thus, Good Friday is a day of both fasting and abstinence (one meal and two smaller meals with no meat except seafood). Usually it is a good idea to eat dinner early in the evening on Maundy Thursday and having nothing else that night. Then one meal Friday with two smaller meals, and the same for Saturday until the fast is broken with the Easter Vigil.
Beyond the more universal / minimum fast in the western church, we are also encouraged to pray and discern what other things we may fast / abstain during Lent. Remember, the Book of Common Prayer is a bit more strict concerning fasting than the Roman Church. We consider every weekday in Lent to be a day for fasting / self-denial. Some give up social media, negativity, television, internet, screens in general and many other things. Remember – the point of fasting is to starve the ego, so to speak, and to focus on Jesus Christ. We are called to “Listen to Him!” by God the Father. Abstaining and fasting should turn our attention to him more profoundly. Ask God what might stand in the way of being closer to Jesus this Lent and then trust in his grace to give you the strength to fast and abstain and focus more on Christ.
Penance is not only what we go without, it is also what we do in the name of Christ. The works of mercy, alms giving (giving to the poor especially), increasing prayer time, attending the Holy Eucharist more faithfully, attending the midweek service, etc. are all good ways of adding good, holy works to your life that helps you grow closer to Jesus Christ.