The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works). [Catechism of the Catholic Church 1438].
Mardi Gras and Lent
Is Mardi Gras the best way to prepare for Lent? You say to yourself, “I am going to contemplate on the Lord, so I will prepare myself by getting drunk and partying all night, because I know this is the last time for a while that I will be able to do such things . . .”
Celebrating wildly before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent resembles the last meal of a criminal condemn to die. Is that what Lent is about?
The fourth precept: “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church” ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. The Precepts of the Catholic Church, 2043
Lent is a time of penance, prayer and preparation for the celebration of Easter. During early Christianity, fasting meant eating only one meal. Fish and meat were prohibited. During the last few centuries, fasting restrictions have eased, while celebrating and revelry in preparation for Lent have increased. Today, there is little left for which to prepare.
Today, especially in affluent societies, St. Augustine’s warning is more timely than ever: ‘Enter again into yourself.’ Yes, we must enter again into ourselves, if we want to find ourselves. Not only our spiritual life is at stake, but indeed, our personal, family and social equilibrium, itself. One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. [Pope John Paul II].
Although many individuals still abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, not many adherents do much more fasting than that during Lent. This is because they are not aware of the spiritual benefits of fasting and see it only as an obligation that they should fulfill.
If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit; and although we may be able to do but little, the enemy nevertheless stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast. [St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life III, ch. 23].
So, while fasting adherents are decreasing, the number of Mardi Gras celebrants and the excesses of their celebrations seem to be peaking. Laissez les bons temps rouler — “let the good times roll” appears to be the common refrain.
We are told: It is no big deal to eat non-Lenten food during Lent. It is no big deal if you wear expensive beautiful outfits, go to the theater, to parties, to masquerade balls, use beautiful expensive china, furniture, expensive carriages and dashing steeds, amass and hoard things, etc….
Why do we compound sin upon sin, fall endlessly into opposing to God, into a life of vanity? Is it not because of a passion for earthly things and especially for earthly pleasures? What makes our hearts become crude? Why do we become flesh and not spirit, perverting our moral nature? Is it not because of a passion for food, drink, and other earthly comforts?
How after this can one say that it does not matter whether you eat non-Lenten food during Lent? The fact that we talk this way is in fact pride, idle thought, disobedience, refusal to submit to God, and separation from Him. [St. John of Kronstadt].