The Church has concluded her longest penitential season of the year, Lent. We now celebrate in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. This celebration, however, does not confer on Catholics that penance is now obsolete. While on the so-called New Calendar, Friday within the Octave of Easter is observed as that of a solemnity, meaning one ought not fast or abstain from meat. However, on the Traditional Calendar, that being the calendar observed until the introduction of the New Order of Mass in 1969, Catholics were obliged to abstain from meat on Friday within the Octave of Easter. What does this mean for us Catholics today and, in general, how should penitential practices or ascetism be observed outside of Lent?
According to Canon 1251, “abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday.”
Therefore, no Catholic is obliged to abstain from meat on Easter Friday, that being the Friday within the Octave of Easter. Additionally, if one would choose to abstain from meat on Easter Friday, there is no pain of sin.
While during the season of Easter the Church announces to her members that “Christ is risen.” There is a great promise attributed to Christ’s Resurrection, which is that after a life on earth filled with suffering, penance, and death all faithful members of the Church will enter into Christ’s glory and triumph over the grave. To quote the Easter Homily of Archbishop Lefebvre, “…this privilege will be granted us only if we are faithful to our obligations as members of Christ’s Mystical Body – which means that we must make our lives like to the life of Our Lord Himself. Like Him we must be willing to endure suffering in the spirit of full conformity to God’s will, repeating from our heart the words He spoke in the Garden of Olives: “Father, not my will but thine be done.” Like Him we must bear our cross patiently, for He said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt., 16:24). Like Him, we must love God with our whole heart and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves. At times, these duties are very hard, but it was only through such deeds that Christ Himself merited the glory of the resurrection. The servant is not above the Master” (Easter Sunday, Archbishop Lefebvre).
This is key! For, did not Christ Himself suffer greatly on this earth before entering into His glory at the Resurrection? While on earth we are called to make sacrifice or penance often to conform ourselves to the life of Christ and to have the hope of attaining Eternal Splendor. Very few of the faithful today know that according to one of the precepts of the Church, as mentioned above in Canon 1251, is under penalty of mortal sin if one does not abstain from meat or do some sort of penitential act on all Fridays of the year.
To quote Pope Paul VI, “This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism—does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume. On the contrary mortification aims at the “liberation” of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. Through “corporal fasting” man regains strength and the “wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.”” (Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini).
I quote Paul VI to show that the Church has not declared fasting as obsolete in recent history, but continues to teach of both the beauty, the necessity, and the fruitfulness of fasting. To imitate Christ is to fast, to suffer, to carry our cross. In order to obtain the highest ranks of Eternal Splendor, fasting and other forms of penance, are necessary! Fasting and other forms of penance mortify our own sinful and selfish wills in order to adhere to that of the Divine Will.
Saint Benedict prayed, “O Lord, I place myself in your hands and dedicate myself to you. I pledge myself to do your will in all things: To love the Lord God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. Not to kill. Not to steal. Not to covet. Not to bear false witness. To honor all persons. Not to do to another what I would not wish done to myself. To chastise the body. Not to seek after pleasures. To love fasting.”
To “love fasting” brings great joy! St. Josemaria Esvriva offers this advice about carrying our cross, “But don’t drag the Cross… Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because your Cross, if you carry it like that, will not be just any Cross: it will be… the Holy Cross. Don’t carry your Cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the Cross. When you really love it, your Cross will be… a Cross, without a Cross (St. Josemaria Escriva, Holy Rosary).
While we should rightly celebrate the Easter Season with great joy, may we not allow this season to mar the fruit springing from a faithful Lenten observance. Because what Easter gives us, is just a foretaste of the joy and the glory that can be achieved for all eternity when conforming ourselves to the Divine Will of Christ by mortifying our own will, by carrying our cross with love, by loving fasting, and by embracing penance; all which will bear great fruit in the life to come.
Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!