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Friday After Ash Wednesday

February 24, 2012

Blessed Friday!

There’s a prayer that has special significance for Fridays of Lent.
Praying this before a crucifix on a Lenten Friday
(with the usual conditions of Holy Communion within a day or two,
Sacramental Confession within a week before or after,
prayers for the pope’s intentions–at least an “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”–
and no attachment to sin), makes one eligible for a plenary indulgence
(i.e., to have the Church open Her treasury of graces to pay all the moral–not monetary!–
debts that you–or a deceased soul–would otherwise pay in Purgatory):

Prayer Before a Crucifix
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Your Face I humbly kneel;
and with burning soul, pray and beseech You to fix deep in my heart
lively sentiments of Faith, Hope and Charity,
true contrition for all my sins and a firm purpose of amendment;
while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Your five wounds,
calling to mind the words which David, Your prophet, said of You, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones!”

Show gracious favor, O Lord, we pray,
to the works of penance we have begun,
that we may have strength to accomplish with sincerity
the bodily observances we undertake.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening prayer from today’s Mass)

Isaiah 58:1-9 (fasting is supposed to make us holy)
Psalm 51: 3-19 “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, You will not spurn”
+Matthew 9:14-15 (there is a time to fast)

Fasting, like every other aspect of the spiritual life, has social dimensions.

It’s not really about food as such.
It’s about relationships
–about compassion (empathizing with the starving)
and generosity (motivation to relieve the suffering of others)–
so much so, that if we get the food part right & muff the relationships
God can’t bear to watch.

Why do we fast and You do not see it?
afflict ourselves and You take no notice?
-Isaiah 58:3


Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw…
-Isaiah 58:3-4

Nobody benefits from that sort of fast!

This, rather, is the fasting I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
-Isaiah 58: 6-7

We have embarked on a season of fasting,
following in the footsteps of a God-Man who ate nothing for forty days
in preparation for a showdown with our most fundamental temptations
and an intense ministry of laying down His life–every day–for those in need.

Every Friday* we are called upon to practise,
to renew the lessons of the desert, the lessons of the cross,
in self-sacrificial love.

Yes, food plays a significant role.
But it isn’t the point.

That’s why, when Pope Paul VI gave bishops’ conferences permission
to substitute another form of penance for Fridays outside of Lent,
he gave special emphasis to works of charity!

God Himself, in Whose image we are created, is community:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one profound union of divine love.

As God is not alone…

It is not good for man to be alone.
-Genesis 2:18

God designed us for communion–with Him and, like Him, with others.

Our fasting, like everything else, always has to take into account the welfare of those around us.
We cannot fast in the presence of the bridegroom.
We cannot sour his celebration by refusing to participate in his banquet
(no weddings on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, folks!).

No, Jesus didn’t always please people or make them comfortable (just ask the Pharisees!)
but His self-sacrifice was always at the service of helping souls reach their ultimate destination
of Heaven.

We’re called to be like Him.

Is your fasting of the sort that God can’t bear to watch?
What Friday food choices will help you grow in compassion and generosity–
in holy, self-sacrificial relationships?
(Does “succulent shrimp” really make the cut?)
What attitude toward Friday penances will help you get better at the kind of fasting God wants:

releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.


I. 1. By divine law all the faithful are required to do penance.
2. …abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation
VI. 1. … it is the task of episcopal [Bishops’] conferences to:
B. Substitute abstinence and fast wholly or in part with other forms of penitence and especially works of charity and the exercises of piety.
Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini Of The Supreme Pontiff Paul VI On Fast And Abstinence, February 17, 1966

In other words, Bishops’ conferences were given authority
to allow the faithful to substitute another penance for meatless Fridays outside of Lent–
not to do away with Friday penances outside of Lent altogether.
That message was not communicated to most Catholics.

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