Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnival (which means "Goodbye, meat!"), the day on which Catholics traditionally pig out, and in some cases, the day upon which they engage in serious mortal sinning, a practice I do not recommend. The reason to eat to excess on this day is that one needs to clean out the pantry of all the food that one is not going to eat in Lent. Thus the feasting.

Let's think about this a little. What are the fasting regulations for Roman Catholics? Abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, and on all Fridays in Lent. Fast (only two meals, or one regular meal and two little ones) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Hmmmm. Did you know that all Catholics are supposed to refrain from eating meat on every Friday? It's in Canon Law: Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent. Can. 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. So that bit of Lenten fasting is inconsequential. What about the second part? Only two meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? How many of you eat three meals on an ordinary day, anyway? Many people skip breakfast. So, we see that Lenten fasting is no hardship at all, and is not noticeably different from the general practice of most people.

If your eating habits in Lent are no different than they are in the rest of the year, then why are you celebrating Mardi Gras? It doesn't make sense! May I suggest that you should consider the fasting regulations as the merest bare minimum of what you must do, but not a prescription of what you should do? It is like the law of the Church that says you need to go to communion and confession at least once a year, whether you need it or not. Are you satisfied with receiving communion once a year? Of course not! Similarly, don't be satisfied with minimal fasting.

P.S. Concerning abstaining from meat on Fridays: the bishops in this country have made the rule that one may eat meat on Friday if one engages in some penitential practice. So what do you do for penance last Friday when you had that hamburger?

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