Sexagesima Signals Serious Sacrifice Soon
Catholics know that lent is a season of prayer and penance. Penance necessarily includes some pain, self inflicted, as a way to do what Jesus asks when He instructs us “Unless you do penance, you shall all perish.” Protestants and Modernists shirk at the notion of penance, but the worst part is that you can’t even find the word on the Bishops’ page about Lent.
Taking the Sacrifice Out of Lent in Favor of Community
This is the time of year when the notion of “what to give up for lent” arrives. The really bad advice starts circulating on the social media. I am particularly tickled every year because many begin posting “I’ll be gone for Lent” as if social media is some luxury. If they were going to be off Facebook because they were in the Baltic plains without cell service, maybe I’d see something to that. Instead, Lent is a community celebration anymore.
It’s even worse this year because many priests are going to just lightly dust ashes over the head of the penitents, rather than imposing them with a firm thumb and making a sign of the Cross on the forehead. They say it’s necessary for the pandemic. Seems to me that having the ashes imposed would be more necessary, because of the pandemic!
They’ve done to Lent what they did to Mass.
Read any number of Parish bulletins these days, and the reference to the Holy Sacrifice of Mass has devolved into “celebration” and community. It is all the tripe we hated from the felt banners of the 70’s and 80’s refined, fermented, and served as a non-controversial pablum of “unity” in some club of welcoming.
Look at the old Baltimore Catechism No. 2 – this is the material for young children! It’s clear:
I cannot find that language anywhere in the USCCB Catechism for Adults (online at this link). I find a lot of talk about community and such. Moreover, when I look on the USCCB website, there is a new section called “Rediscovering the Mass“. [pers. note. The title makes the Mass sound like Indiana Jones or some lost artifact]. I see instead that the Mass is referred to as Liturgy all the time. And, while scant references can be found in the USCCB materials on the notion of the “paschal mystery” — mentions of the crucifixion and passion of Our Lord are gone in favor of His resurrection and community.
Call me crazy, but I looked and looked and I can’t find much mention of sacrifice in those pages. I find a lot about “participation,” and whose has what role, and “people of God.”
You local Catholic parish however, is not as circumspect as the USCCB. There, you will find the evidence of true devolution. I googled nearby parishes and found the following references to “Mass”:
- “Our Sunday Experience”
- “Community Worship”
- “Sunday Celebration”
There is hope, however, because they still all call it “Mass times” or “Mass Schedule” — I think that’s because ordinary people call it “Mass.” and if the parish doesn’t call the schedule by name, nobody can find it!
What is missing, though, unless you are looking at Latin Mass materials, is any mention of sacrifice. Just community, participation, welcoming, and so on.
Lent is Penance
Father Hardon gives a history of Lent in which his definition of Lent is:
There are two guiding principles for the observance of Lent. During this season, the faithful are to grow in their love of Jesus Crucified, and they are to practice extra penance for their own and other people’s sins.Fr. Hardon, Brief History of Lent, Marian Catechist (1989).
Grow in love of Jesus Crucified and practice extra penance. The word “extra” presumes that you are already doing penance, but adding more for Lent.
Again, St. Maximilian Kolbe, writing for the Militia Immaculata, speaks of lent as:
Even today many would like to abolish any type of mortification, since our degraded world nowadays seeks happiness in fleeting, sensual, and often sinful pleasures.
Nevertheless, penance is not the exclusive privilege of St. Paul, nor an “error” of the Middle Ages, but a duty: a bounden duty of all, for no one is without sin. Also, people did not start getting Penance wrong during the Middle Ages: even in the early centuries of the Church the faithful, obedient to the commands of Christ, kept a tight rein on their bodies.
Jesus Christ himself fasted in the desert for 40 days and urged others to do Penance, under threat of perdition: “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did” (Lk 13:5). And St. Peter taught in the temple: “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).
Already the first Christians did works of penance: in fact even the Lenten fast was well known among them, as attested by St. Augustine (4430), St. John Chrysostom (4407), Origen (4253), and St. Irenaeus (4202). They exhorted the faithful to observe fervently the Lenten fast and admonished those who failed to observe it according to the austerity of the time. And that was not yet in the centuries of the Middle Ages.
Anyone who wishes to be saved, therefore, must do penance.
The Holy Church, although it cannot completely abolish penance, nonetheless by virtue of the power received from Christ determines how penance is done, according to times and places.Kolbe, M. Rycerz Niepokalanej, March 1923, pp. 33-35 as quoted in Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, vol. 2 p 1832 et seq.
St. Kolbe lines up square with the Fathers of the Church and with Fr. Hardon’s advice: we must do penance. period.
Yet, apart from references to communal penance services and sometimes to the “sacrament of penance” (as if they hate the name “confession”), you won’t find reference to doing penance!
USCCB “What is Lent?” Doesn’t Mention Penance
I have to hand it to the USCCB, the “What is Lent?” page is far better than past attempts. At least the word “fasting” appears on it. And the introduction and definition is better than we find in parish bulletins:
Lent is a 40 day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It’s a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter. During Lent, we seek the Lord in prayer by reading Sacred Scripture; we serve by giving alms; and we practice self-control through fasting. We are called not only to abstain from luxuries during Lent, but to a true inner conversion of heart as we seek to follow Christ’s will more faithfully. We recall the waters of baptism in which we were also baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.USCCB website, “What is Lent?“
Notice the problem though? Fr. Hardon speaks of Lent as a time to grow in love of Jesus Crucified. I mentioned above that we removed reference to crucifixion in the Sacrifice of the Mass… calling it instead celebration. Notice that tendency of the USCCB to skip the same. I do wish to commend the Lent page for mentioning “self-control” also. In fact, there is a mash up in the next paragraph that even talks of self-discipline: “Many know of the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, but we are also called to practice self-discipline and fast in other ways throughout the season.”
I will also point out that the graphics on the page say expressly “sacrifice something that’s hard for you.” There are better hooks in these pages than has been! It all falls apart at the parish level though.
Parishes Make Lent a Community Self-Improvement “Journey”
Just like the language referencing the Sacrifice of the Mass, things are totally devolved at the parish level. Looking at some local examples, my favorites are:
- “lent is a time to look inward”
- “it’s not what you give up this lent, but what you gain”
- “lent is a time when we journey to risen selves” (yes, this is gnosticism)
Fight the Journey: No Pain, no gain
That same article by St. Maximilian Kolbe above stated that Poles would still keep the strict fast from today (Sexagesima Sunday) and others would have Benn fasting since Septagesima Sunday (!). A lot of this extended practice was the overlap of Byzantine practice in Poland, and the keeping of those Eastern practices all the way into the 1930’s.
At the beginning of the fourth century people fasted for 40 days, on the model of Jesus’ fasting. The Synod of Nicaea had already given a name to this fast (canon 5): “Quadragesima,” Lent.
In the West people fasted for six weeks, with the exception of Sundays. In the East instead (Antioch, Constantinople), the custom was to exempt people from tasting on Saturdays as well, so fasting began seven weeks before Faster.
In practice, therefore, people fasted for 30 days.
Only in the seventh century in Rome was the number of days of tasting finally rounded up to 40, since fasting began with Ash Wednesday. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, this practice had been accepted throughout the whole Catholic world. In the Synod of Benevento, Pope Urban II commanded also Church-wide observance of the already ancient tradition of sprinkling ashes on people’s heads at the beginning of the fast. At the same time, the names of the Sundays of Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, Septuagesima were also adopted.’
Ever since the days of Innocent IV (1243-1254) austere fasting in Poland was made to start from Septuagesima Sunday.
Such fasting was hard because neither Sundays nor Saturdays were excluded, and people were allowed to eat only once a day. What is more, they were expected to exclude meat, eggs and dairy products.
In the fifteenth century, the Apostolic See eased fasting for the northern countries. However, despite the decision of the Synod of Wioclawek (1248) to start fasting only from Ash Wednesday, the Poles continued to fast as they had in the past.
In 1505, Erazm Ciolek, Bishop of Plock, obtained, at the request of King Aleksander, a dispensation from fasting on Wednesdays throughout the year. However, even that was not adopted.
Subsequently Pius X (on April 5, 1903) granted the dioceses of the Kingdom of Poland the use of meat every Saturday of the year and on the Sundays of Lent. He established that meat could be eaten once a day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (except on Holy Thursday) in Lent. Furthermore, it was decided that abstaining from dairy products should be limited to Good Friday.Kolbe, op. cit.
Penace is Necessary, so why not mention it?
Father Hardon tells us that part of making reparation for sin (both ours and others) is necessary.
St. Kolbe says that in his day, Protestants were afraid of penance:
I also had the opportunity to talk about the same topic with a Protestant pastor in the town of [Nieszawa]. He too, like Protestants in general, was horrified by penance. When I pointed out that St. Paul asserts: “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” [1 Cor 9:27], he said that those things were practiced only by St. Paul, while others are not obliged to imitate him.
Even today many would like to abolish any type of mortification, since our degraded world nowadays seeks happiness in fleeting, sensual, and often sinful pleasures.Kolbe, op. cit.
That was in 1923. Seems far more likely that today, the pressure to compromise is greater, both from the desires to pacify and mollify differences in creeds, but also in the hedonism and self-satisfying culture we are steeped in. Misguided ecumenism would seem to be among the motives, but I think there’s more to it. Modernism deifies the self and the impulses — penance is self-imposed pain offered to God in reparation for sin. The two concepts cannot coexist.
But just as with the Sacrifice of the Mass, anything that sounds harsh is erased and compromised away. It’s our “journey.” To where seems to be somewhere other than Our Lord meant, though.
St. John Chrysostom, Fr. Hardon, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and countless other saints begin the discussion of lent with one quote from Our Lord: “unless you do penance, you shall all perish.” Even with the improvements to the USCCB pages, I just don’t see that in discussions today. We’ve journeyed elsewhere.
When Discussing Lent Preparation this Year, talk about Penance!
Here is an excerpt of Fr. Hardon speaking on the necessity of penance for Lent:
Is it any wonder that on Pentecost Sunday, after Peter preached his sermon, and rebuked the people for their sins, and they asked him, “what must we do,” his first word to the multitude was the imperative verb, “Repent!”
Is it any wonder that Our Lady of Fatima’s message to a sinful world in our day, may be summarized in the same imperative, “Do penance.”
Indeed, the calamities that we have so far seen in this present century: two world wars with more casualties than in all the previous wars of history, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that hangs over us like a tornado cloud. All of this is God’s warning to do penance and reparation. Why? Because God is not mocked.
You do not offend God with impunity. You do not sin without retribution. You do not ignore the will of the Almighty and expect the Almighty to ignore what you do.
What bears emphasis, however, is that this retribution is either to be paid willingly, with our penance and reparation, or will be paid unwillingly within the divine punishment.
The divine logic is simple, awfully simple, and all we have to do is learn what God is telling us. Either we do penance and reparation because we want to, or we shall suffer (against our will) the consequences of our sins in this life, and in the life to come.
But remember, this penance and reparation is to be done not only for what we have personally done wrong. It is for all the pride and lust, for all the cruelty and greed, for all the envy and laziness and gluttony of a sin-laden human family.Fr. Hardon, Penance and Reparation: A Lenten Meditation (1991).
Sixty days until Easter. And you have a week to get some good ideas for Lent this year.
Meanwhile, enjoy the paczki, cheeseburgers, and luxuries – for carnival is yet with us. Find a priest that will still impose ashes by grinding them into your forehead. Apparently, that will be difficult this year. And think about what little penance you might offer Our Lord in penance and reparation this year.
You can find ideas here:
This article, Sexagesima Signals Serious Sacrifice Soon is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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