Monday, 8 April 2013

The ninth day of feasting: the Annunciation


Today is the feast of the Annunciation (transferred from March 25) making this the ninth first class day (equivalent to a Novus Ordo solemnity) of first class days in a row.

In fact this extension of the eight day Sunday is not that unusual: Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year includes this feast at the end of his volume on Easter Week for precisely this reason.  And, after all, it comes after some forty odd penitential days.

All the same, some people seem confused or reluctant to commit to the feasting and fasting cycle built into the liturgical year.

On the blogs: two views

Fr Z laudably posted, in response to a question from a reader, on whether it is a sin to fast during the Easter Octave.  His answer (which I agree with) was well no, it is probably not actually a sin, but not it is really in keeping with the spirit of the season either.  In fact Jansenism, that dour, puritan, pseudo-Protestant strain that survives in many places colonised by the Irish in particular, is the word that comes into mind in relation to the readers question!

By contrast Fr Finigan of the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog apparently caused a stir by suggesting in the Catholic Herald that Easter Friday was a day of abstinence (England and Wales has reintroduced this tradition) - though he has since backtracked somewhat, admitting that the law on this can be read two ways.

And it is true that the situation is somewhat confused.  The current Code of Canon Law exempts all 'solemnities' from fasting and abstinence (or the need to do other penances).  Under the 1962 calendar, Class I feasts are solemnities, so are presumably exempt from the obligation to do penance if one follows that calendar.

But that does lead to some odd conflicts with  the rules as they stood prior to the current Code, when days of fasting and abstinence were not strictly tied to the level of the day in the calendar.  The oddest one always seems to be to be the ember days in the Octave of Pentecost, but there are others.

Still, we live in a post-1962 world, so I think we can all come up with reasonable resolutions to these problems without getting carried away!

The bigger underlying problem, it seems to me, is the loss of the sense of importance of fasting and abstinence at all.  Australia, unlike England, has not yet moved to restore Friday abstinence.  The rules around the two days of required fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) are not exactly tough.  And the Eucharistic fast is tokenistic indeed.

That seems to me particularly unfortunate in an era where, compared to previous times, most people feast pretty much everyday!

The rhythms of nature

The reality is that our lives are mostly rigorously arranged so as to exclude the inconveniences imposed by God's natural creation: electric light means we can ignore the natural cycles of dawn and dusk; and the wonders of fast travel means we can mostly ignore seasonality when it comes to access not just to enough food, but to pretty much every type of food for example.

Like the medicalization of so many 'natural' states of being (such as high levels of energy amongst children, sadness, and the like), these advances feed an illusion that it is we, and not God, that is in control of our world.

There is nothing inherently wrong, of course, in enjoying the fruits of technological innovation, the result of man's co-creative work with God.

But we should, in my view, keep everything in perspective, practice moderation, and pay attention to those symbolic actions the Church has traditionally provided as aids to our recollection, such as the traditional fasting and feasting cycles of the liturgical year, and celebrating Vigils in the darkness.

These acts are helpful reminders of our utter dependence on God and the salvation he offers.

A salvation made possible by the co-operation of Our Lady in response to the message of the Archangel Gabriel, which we celebrate today.

1 comment:

Salvatore said...

A good point on ‘naturalness.’ It often strikes me how dependent the Church has become on technological props for liturgy. When was the last time you saw a Church without batteries of stage lighting and a powerful PA system, for example?
(The latter is particularly problematic IMO because, by making the ordinary speaking voice audible over a wide area, it effectively discourages celebrants from chanting the liturgy.)
Perhaps this can be sold as part of a new ‘Green’ agenda? ;)