13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday 2013

Hello, Ash Wednesday! Was that too excited? It is a day of fasting and the beginning of a season of lots of penance after all. I'll tone it down.

Celebrating properly with pumpkin, banana and red velvet pancakes.

Shrove Tuesday

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday and I celebrated it quite properly with abundant pancakes. Actually, only three pancakes because that's all I could handle. When did pancakes become so filling? Why pancakes? I mentioned in this post some special Lent observation including the old practice of abstaining from eggs. Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote to St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th century: "We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." It turned out to be a fun way to share some "Yeah, Catholics actually do x, which influences this thing you still do today" facts with some of my friends, and later I wanted something savory to eat after so much sugar so I got some cheese sticks. Ultimate dairy/egg win, really.

I've been thinking about making this for a while. Now I have good reason!

Fasting + Abstaining

I'll stop broadcasting pancakes since we're to be fasting today. No more food talk! But really, what are the guidelines for fasting in the U.S.? Glad you asked:

  1. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. What does that entail? One full meal is allowed (traditionally, it was eaten towards the end of the day), as well as two small snacks which cannot add up to the size of the meal.
  2. Also included in fasting is abstaining. Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays or on Ash Wednesday.
  3. Normal liquid is good throughout the day: water (absolutely), tea,  coffee, anything you would drink because you are thirsty. A milkshake? Not so much.
But there are probably some questions about this:

Why do Catholics get to eat a full meal and snack if they're supposed to be fasting? Doesn't that mean not eating anything?
     I have attempted fasting the entire day Ash Wednesday and Good Friday before. One year I was able to do it, the next I thought I was going to pass out if I didn't eat something. Fasting is not just about the obvious not eating that is occurring. It also has a mental component: What is shown by going without food? It is about the attitude in which you fast. Are you doing it for a true religious observance or are you focusing on testing the limits of your strength in a selfish way? Not eating all day is difficult for the mind and the body. Allowing a meal and small snacking enables you to take care of your body still while also focusing on religious observance.

What's the deal with fish? Why can Catholics eat fish on Friday?
     Quite simply, because fish is not meat. Meat describes the flesh of warm blooded animals.


Another really important thing to be doing during Lent is going to Confession. A guideline:

  1. Look at your local parish's listings of Confession/Sacrament of Reconciliation and make a commitment to go. Choose a day. Just pick that date up and stuff it in your brain. Write it in a calendar if you need to.
  2. To make a good examination of conscience, I would recommend a week, or even two weeks up to going, set aside time to pray and go through your day with the Commandments in front of you. My parish hands out bulletins guiding Confessions which will list the Commandments and questions/examples underneath each category. I also have an iPhone app that I refer to.
  3. Write down sins in kind and number on a little note card or piece of paper and bring that with you to Confession: this way, you won't forget any sins because everything is there in front of you.
  4. Memorize an act of contrition and familiarize yourself with the format of Confession. An act of contrition doesn't take more than ten seconds to say, so it isn't that difficult.
  5. Make sure you stay for Father's absolution: that is what forgives your sin. No absolution, no forgiveness. Stay also for your penance and any advice Father may give. Do your penance immediately after so you don't forget to do it.

Reading + Prayer

One thing I really want to try to do more of is pray the Rosary daily. I also want to do morning and evening prayers more often, so I did both with the aid of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and some reading from St. Louis De Montfort's The Secret of the Rosary. Both are excellent (and very pretty blue colored) and would be a good way to spend more time with Mary every day.

One of the readings for Wednesday mornings comes from Isaiah. A particular part which resonated with me was:

'No more shall men call you "Forsaken,"
or your land "Desolate,"
but you shall be called "My delight,"
and your land "Espoused."
For the Lord delights in you,
and makes your land his spouse.

After meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries, which kept my mind on the next several weeks of penance and mortification, Isaiah lifted my soul in hope for Easter. After the night ends, morning comes. Lent will go by, I hope not too slowly but slowly enough for me to observe it properly, and Easter will be here and I will be accepted into the Church. Easter will be full of happiness and hope for the kingdom. The Bridegroom will meet his Bride.

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