“…the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they shall fast.”
A Word of Hope
Every year during our 40 days of Lent, we remember the familiar and inspiring story of Jesus’ 40 Day wilderness fast that established the season. Fasting during Lent was also interpreted by the Seventh Century church as Christ-ordained in the above scripture.
The earliest fasts severely limited all foods, but in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great began to ease off on the rigidness and wrote that “We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs.” The early history of Lent suggests strongly that medieval people disliked the hardships of the fast. Animal products, such as eggs, were easy to identify, but the definition of “flesh meat” gave them quite a few loopholes owing to the allowance of fish as a food acceptable during fasts.
The Bible, as is often the case, was the source of a liberal amount of their justification. In Genesis 1.20-25, the fish and birds were created to populate the waters and the heavens on the fifth day, and creatures of the earth created on the sixth day, so our clever Medieval ancestors grouped sea birds with fish as okay for fasting-day foods. Puffins, gulls, albatrosses, and all other sea birds were legally eaten. Medieval “science” helped as well. The beaver was believed to be a composite animal, its scaly tail being the tail of a fish, so it was acceptable to eat the animal’s tail during Lent, but not the rest of the beaver. Sweetmeats (fruits and nuts preserved with sugar) were also eventually allowed since they were too small to be considered an actual meal.
But, of course, the Season of Lent has never been a 40-day unbroken fast anyway. Sundays during Lent were not fast days, but feast days, which makes having a Sunday doughnut a holy practice. In our era, we also understand that there are medical conditions that make fasting inadvisable for many of us, so I am grateful that the tradition of “taking something on” in place of “giving something up” for Lent is another viable option in our spring spiritual journey. There’s no limit to what we can do. Projects that improve the health and welfare of others are abundant here at the Cathedral of Hope and Lent is the perfect time to explore some possibilities.
May my personal Lenten wilderness retreat instruct me, benefit my neighbor and always be honoring to you.
Minister for Children and Families
Order of St Francis and St. Clare