An incredible book! Around the Year With the Trapp Family, 1955
With Septuagesima Sunday begins the cycle that has for its center the greatest of all solemnities, the feast of Easter. The Christmas cycle and the Easter cycle are like the water and wine at the Offertory when the priest prays: “Grant that by the mystery of this water and wine we may be made partakers of His Divinity, Who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord.”
For in the Christmas cycle we celebrate God having come down among us, clothing Himself with our humanity. This is the cycle of the Incarnation, corresponding to the cycle of the Redemption where we are shown this same Jesus Who “makes us partakers of His Divinity.”
These two and a half weeks–the Septuagesima, Sexuagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays, and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday following
Quinquagesima–serve as a time of transition for the soul, which must pass from Christmas joys (and through the merry time of Carnival) to the stern penance of the sacred forty days of Lent.
The fast is not yet an obligation, but the color of the vestments is already violet. The Gloria during Holy Mass is suspended, and the martyrology introduces Septuagesima Sunday as that Sunday on which “we lay aside the song of the Lord which is Alleluia.” In medieval times they used to “bury the Alleluia” solemnly in the cathedral and in the abbey churches.
This custom was nearly forgotten, but we came across it again on the happy day when we were privileged to celebrate Holy Mass in the creative and inspired parish of our friend, Monsignor Martin Hellriegel.
There, in a solemn procession, the school children carried a wooden tablet on which was engraved the word “Alleluia” through the main aisle of the church over to the altar of the Blessed Mother where they put it at her feet and covered it with a purple cloth. There it would remain until Easter, when, in a triumphant tone of voice, the priest would intone, for the first time after forty days, a three-fold Alleluia.
This impressed us so deeply that we wished it could be introduced into all parish churches, to make the congregation conscious that Alleluia is the ancient Hebrew chant of triumph with which a victor was hailed after the battle. It is also the chant St. John heard in heaven, as he tells us in the Apocalypse.
This Alleluia has to be suspended in a time devoted to fathoming the thought that we are “poor, banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Only in the Easter festivities shall we again hail Our Lord, the victor over Satan, Who will reopen to us the kingdom of heaven.
In these weeks of the pre-Lenten season, the mother of the family has much to teach her children. She will introduce them to the meaning of the color of violet in church. She will prepare them for the forty sacred days of retreat, and will help them to formulate their Lenten resolutions, which should be written on a sheet of paper and placed on the house altar. It is important that Lenten resolutions do not use the negative approach only, such as, “I won’t do this” and “I won’t do that.”
They should start positively, with “I will use these three books” (this as soon as the child can read); “I will use the time I save by abstaining from television for this and this….” “I will use the money I save by not going to the movies for alms given to….”
It is a precious time, a time for the mother to introduce her children to the three ancient good works–prayer, fasting, and giving of alms–with which we can atone for our sins. It will take root in young hearts, never to be forgotten.
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. As we are summoned into church we find the program all laid out for us. Following the example of the people of Nineveh, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, the Church wants today to humble our pride by reminding us of our death sentence as a consequence of our sins.
She sprinkles our head with ashes and says:
“Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The ashes used have been made from burning the palm from the previous Palm Sunday. These ashes belong to the very powerful sacramentals (such as Epiphany water or candles from Candlemas Day).
The four prayers preceding the blessing of the ashes are so beautiful and so rich in meaning that they should be read aloud and discussed in the family circle on Ash Wednesday night.
In our time, when “how to” books are so popular, the Gospel seems most appropriate to instruct us on how to fast:
“At that time Jesus said to His disciples, `When you fast, be ye not as hypocrites, sad, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward, but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face that thou appear not to men to fast but to thy Father Who sees in secret, and thy Father, Who sees in secret, will repay thee.'”
It is interesting to remind ourselves that fast and abstinence are such ancient practices that they are much older than the Catholic Church, as are ashes and haircloth as means of penance. The pages of the Old Testament are filled with references to sackcloth and ashes (Jonas 3:5 -8; Jeremias 6:26; 25:34; Judith 9:1).
The ancient notions about fast and abstinence compare to our modern Lenten regulations as a Roman chariot compares to a modern sports car.
Let us, first of all, straighten out what is fasting and what is abstinence.
The first has to do with the quantity of food that can be taken, and the latter refers to the kind of food.
In ancient times fasting really was fasting. The first meal was taken after vespers, and vespers were sung at sundown as evening prayer of the Church.
Abstinence in the old times (and the old times reached almost to the days of our grandparents) meant that nothing was eaten (or kept in the house) which comes from animals: no meat, no fish, no lard, no milk, butter, cheese, cream. The Lenten fare consisted exclusively of vegetables, fruit, and a bread made of flour and water and salt.
For our generation the law of abstinence means that all meat of warm-blooded animals and of birds and fowl and the soup made thereof is forbidden. It leaves free the wonderful world of seafood and the meat of other cold-blooded animals such as frogs, turtles, snails, etc.
The fast means that we are allowed one full meal every day and two other meals which, if put together, do not exceed in quantity the full meal.
When I inquired once why the law of fast and abstinence is so much more lenient for us than it was for previous generations, I was told that modern man is much too frail to undergo the awful rigors of the ancient practice. After all, have we not experienced two world wars in our generation which have weakened our constitutions?
That seemed to make perfect sense to me until just recently. I got infected by a neighbor of ours in Stowe with the popular preoccupation of which is the best diet.
Together we searched through a library of books, one more interesting than the other, the sum total of all them most confusing and astounding, however.
Among other things I learned that almost all the ancient and modern sages of the science of “how to live longer and look younger” (they all boast of a tradition going back into the gray dawn of time with the yogis of India) agree on several points:
(1) We are all over-eating–we should eat much less.
(2) We are all eating too much meat, which sours our system, and we absolutely have to abstain from meat for longer or shorter periods every year.
(3) If we could adapt ourselves to a diet of raw vegetables and fruit and whole-wheat bread, that would be the ideal.
(4) And now I could hardly believe my eyes when I read, not once, but in several places, that it would do simply miracles for our constitution if we only would let ourselves be persuaded to undergo a period of complete fast. (One authority suggests three days, others a week, ten days, up to thirty, forty, and even sixty days!)
I cannot help but think sadly: Woe if the Church ever had dared to make such a law or even give only a slight hint in the direction of undergoing a complete fast–for the love of God!
Obviously, modern man, after all, is not too frail to undergo the awful rigors of ancient fast and abstinence. The constitution of man seems not to have changed at all, then. What has changed are the motives.
While the early Christians abstained from food and drink and meat and eggs out of a great sense of sorrow for their sins, and for love of God took upon themselves these inconveniences, modern man has as motive the “body beautiful,” the “girlish figure,” the “how to look younger and live longer” motive. These selfish motives are strong enough to convince him that fasting is good for him–in fact, it is fun.
We ought to be grateful to these modern apostles, whether from India, Switzerland, Sweden, or Wisconsin, because their teaching shows that Holy Mother Church is equally interested in the spiritual welfare of her children and in their physical health. It also should make us better Christians.
It should be absolutely unbearable to us to think that there are thousands of people around us who pride themselves on rigorous feats of fast and abstinence for motives as flimsy as good looks, while we cannot bring ourselves to give up a bare minimum.
And so it might not be a bad idea after all, in fact a very modern one, to go back to the practice of former days and clear our house during the last day of Carnival of every trace of meat and butter and eggs, fish and lard and bouillon cubes, and spend six wholesome weeks in complete harmony with the health-food store around the corner: eating fresh fruit salads, drinking carrot juice, reveling in the exceeding richness of the vitamins we find in raw celery, fresh spinach, and pumpernickel.
I have repeatedly read now that there is absolutely nothing to it to undergo a complete fast. One can even continue one’s occupation, and afterwards (the afterwards can be after thirty days, I was assured) one feels newly born and twenty years younger.
All right, if this is so, let us not be so soft any more. What can be done “To feel twenty years younger” must be possible for our own reason: “that our fasts may be pleasing to Thee, O Lord, and a powerful remedy.” (Post Communion, Ash Wednesday).
Honor his position as the head of the family and teach your children to do so. Have faith in the principle that God placed him at the head and commanded you to obey him, as stated in the Bible. If this doesn’t seem fair, remember that God’s ways are better than our ways.– Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood
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