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“Run the race. Run that you may obtain the prize”
Traditionally, Holy Mother Church has us observe a number of periods of fasting and abstinence throughout the year.
“Fasting” refers to a decrease in our food intake, while abstinence refers to abstaining from meat and poultry. Most of the Fridays of the year are abstinence days (even under the new (1983) Code of Canon Law, unless the nation's bishops have prescribed an alternative penance) and some days (like the ember days and some of the days of Lent) require both fasting and abstinence. Most of the days of Lent are merely fasting days—see "Lenten Observance," linked above.
Other days are no longer prescribed by Church law, but have a strong basis in our customs and traditions. The four weeks of Advent are a good example, or the period with the tongue twisting name "Septuagesima," which begins today. The next two Sundays will have similar names, the three meaning in Latin that we are approximately seventy, sixty, and then fifty days before the great feast of Easter. In the early Church and in some monasteries, all of these days were observed with the rigor of the Lenten fast. In more recent centuries these tests were reduced to the forty days of Lent, known as “Quadragesima.”
Most of this has been lost in the modernist church, whose parishioners tend to see Lent as nothing more than an exercise for taking off a few pounds, or perhaps as an opportunity to quit smoking. The religious significance generally eludes them. So let me share with you the words of Pope Saint Leo the Great. Curiously, they appear in the Breviary during Advent which has been played down as a fasting time in recent years.
Since he wrote in December, Pope Leo mentions the fast as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the harvest. Lent more or less coincides with the planting season, so we can think of it as a fast imploring the future benefit of abundant crops—a sort of thanksgiving in advance.
Leo tells us that by fasting “we draw near to God.” Well, of course we do if we are fasting for that purpose. God is pure Spirit, and by denying our material half, we are emphasizing our spiritual half—showing God that we want to be more and more like Him. We are likewise “making a stand against the devil” —a natural side effect of drawing near to God—but also, denying our material nature means that the devil has far fewer ways to tempt us to sin. Pope Leo says that we also “overcome the softer enticements to sin.” I have always thought of this as practicing our free will in such a way that by giving up innocent pleasures we train ourselves those pleasures that are not so innocent and may be downright sinful.
“Fasting has ever been the ‘bread of strength’” says Leo. Again, self denial strengthens the will so that we are strong enough to resist evil. “From abstinence proceeds pure thoughts, reasonable desires, and healthy counsels.” The mind is clear, making much better decisions than when it is dulled with food or drink. “By voluntary mortifications the flesh dies to lust, and the soul is renewed in might.”
Pope Leo suggests that fasting is made even more beneficial by works of mercy. And, quite practically, by denying our own appetites, we will have more to share with the poor, and to perform other works of charity. “Let us spend in good deeds what we take from indulgence. Let our fast become the banquet of the poor.”
Yet, we are about two and a half weeks before canonical Lent begins. What should we be doing right now? Septuagesima may be seen as a period of preparation: We might “wind down” our eating habits—eating a little bit less and paying less attention to the fine quality of our food and drink; making dining less socially important. Winding down the social scale will be very important by the time Lent comes around—we are much less likely to keep the Lenten fasts if our friends expect us to join them for drinks and dinner! Now is the time to plan your appointments for Lent.
Now is the time to acquire good spiritual literature. Good reading is essential to the spiritual life. It should also serve as a Lenten replacement for more profane entertainments. It may take some time if you have to order reading materials, so now is the time to start looking.
At an absolute minimum, the Church requires that we receive Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten-Easter season, and make a Sacramental Confession at least once during the calendar year. This pre‑Lenten season is the time to prepare. We have a leaflet that will help you to make a thorough examination of conscience in preparation for your Easter Confession and Communion. LINK TO PAGE
So, today the vestments and altar drapes have changed to purple. There are no flowers on the altar. The music is more somber. Today is Septuagesima Sunday and we are wise to get ready for a holy Lent in preparation for the Church's most holy feast of Easter!
“Run the race. Run that you may obtain the prize. ”
Run so that you may obtain the prize of eternal salvation
 Epistle: I Corinthians ix: 24-27 to x: 1-5 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=53&ch=9&l=24-#x