We are now well into the season of Lent for 2021 and so far at least, without any hint that we’re going to be deprived of the Mass again during this Holy Time. The Feast of St. Joseph was the last time I attended Mass last year for many months and as all with properly functioning minds now know, for no good reason at all. Hindsight or not.
I do feel compelled during this time to write on the subject of Lent and I have a couple of topics in mind. The one I will cover today can be understood by the title of the post.
“We all lead busy lives”
You have probably heard some variation of this statement before and usually in relation to not fulfilling obligations, being part of something or generally just doing more. Most people will nod in agreement to this and probably assume it applies to them. The truth is though that compared to those in the past, most of us really don’t have lives that are all that busy. The sheer breadth of the entertainment industry alone should demonstrate this. Never have their been so many ways for people to be distracted. There are also the labour saving devices now considered necessities that virtually every household has. Washing machines, electric irons, microwaves, dish washers, vacuum cleaners as well as heavy duty cleaners and stain removers that significantly lessen the vigor required in scrubbing. Then there is also electricity and indoor plumbing which saves us from fetching water or firewood.
The examples above are by no means exhaustive and I could also mention the way both the working week and working hours have changed too. The point is that in many ways our lives are generally much easier. How busy we are really depends on how busy we want to make ourselves. Some people simply have to work much harder than others and don’t have much option but this isn’t most people. Even the notoriously hard-working Japanese find time for entertainment and relaxation and indeed, have a very large entertainment industry themselves.
At the same time that the amount of leisure time has grown, we’ve seen a corresponding decrease in religious observance as well as what is required of people who still adhere to some form of religion. This is mostly true of Christianity though I don’t imagine other creeds have got away unscathed in the modern world.
Most people would be surprised to read what Lent used to involve. In medieval times, people would abstain from meat, poultry, eggs and (I believe), dairy for the entire time and would fast every day. Today you are only required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and the requirements for fasting shouldn’t make anyone even slightly uncomfortable. That they call not eating one hour before Holy Communion a “fast” is itself a joke.
We have an abundance of food available all year around — regardless of the season. We have motor vehicles and aircraft that quickly and comfortably transport us long distances. We have more time for leisure than ever before. With all this, making greater and not smaller sacrifices at this time of year would seem more reasonable. With such comfort, wouldn’t feeling some genuine discomfort at this time of year be humbling? I think so and I try to live up to this during Lent.
I am not telling everyone we should go medieval with Lent but making things a good deal more austere than they are now couldn’t hurt. The current leadership in the Church is unlikely to mandate any of this so it is up to all of us to set our own standards. I’ve made some Lents far more austere than others and this one is probably one of the more relaxed but I have still subjected myself to far more than is required and I think all the faithful should too. The harder you make it, the easier in many ways it gets. It also does a lot to help us appreciate the culmination of the time during the Triduum. If your stomach is rumbling during the Good Friday Mass, you’ll find it helps to understand Christ’s suffering. And on Easter Sunday, the joy of Christ’s Resurrection will feel all the more special when you know you can once again have a full meal to celebrate.
In many ways, these are small things but they do matter.