The total length of Paschaltide (i.e., the Easter Season) from Easter Sunday to the end of Whitsuntide is 56 days inclusive. In this way, Holy Mother Church shows us the joy of Easter has eclipsed the time of penance of Lent. Yet even in this time of joy, some penance is obligatory and even mandatory by Church Law. Thus, even in times of penance, we can and should continue to offer up fasting and abstinence for the good of souls.
Year-Round Friday Abstinence Is Required (Not Just in Lent!)
As Catholics, we are still bound to either abstain from meat or rather to do some act of penance each Friday of the entire year. Abstinence should always be what we choose to do since this underscored Christian culture for nearly 2,000 years since mandatory Friday abstinence went back to the time of the Apostles. As such, the 1983 Code of Canon Law decrees:
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. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Rogationtide Is A Time of Penance in Eastertide
Virtually forgotten by all Catholics is the important practice of Rogationtide, which falls during Pascaltide as well.
In 2020, Dom Alcuin Reid gave a monastic conference on the Minor Rogation Days where he said in part:
Their observance is now similar in format to the Greater Litanies of April 25th, but these three days have a different origin, having been instituted in Gaul in the fifth century as days of fasting, abstinence and abstention from servile work in which all took part in an extensive penitential procession, often barefoot. The procession and litanies only found a place in the Roman liturgy much later (around the beginning of the ninth century) and even then purely as days of rogation – of intercession – rather than as ones of fasting and penance; the latter being deemed incompatible with the nature of Eastertide.
Indeed, this ancient tradition itself is now widely lost in the West. How many Catholics understand what is meant by the greater or lesser litanies, or by the expression “the Rogations” – clergy included?
Dom Guéranger himself lamented the lack of appreciation of the Rogations in his own day: “If we compare the indifference shown by the Catholics of the present age for the Rogation days, with the devotion wherewith our ancestors kept them, we cannot but acknowledge that there has been a great falling off in faith and piety. Knowing, as we do, the great importance attached to these processions by the Church, we cannot help wondering how it is that there are so few among the faithful who assist at them. Our surprise increases when we find persons preferring their own private devotions to these public prayers of the Church, which, to say nothing of the result of good example, merit far greater graces than any exercises of our own choosing.”
Is Penance Unbefitting for the Pascal Season?
Dom Guéranger, the great liturgist and Church historian who lived around the end of the 1800s, answers this question which many liturgically-minded Catholics ask:
The question naturally presents itself, why did St. Gregory choose the 25th of April for a Procession and Station, in which everything reminds us of compunction and penance, and which would seem so out of keeping with the joyous Season of Easter?
The first to give a satisfactory answer to this difficulty, was Canon Moretti, a learned Liturgiologist of last century. In a dissertation of great erudition, he proves that in the 5th, and probably even in the 4th, century, the 25th of April was observed at Rome as a day of great solemnity. The Faithful went, on that day, to the Basilica of St. Peter, in order to celebrate the anniversary of the first entrance of the Prince of the Apostles into Rome, upon which he thus conferred the inalienable privilege of being the Capital of Christendom. It is from that day that we count the twenty-five years, two months and some days that St. Peter reigned as Bishop of Rome. The Sacramentary of St. Leo gives us the Mass of this Solemnity, which afterwards ceased to be kept. St. Gregory, to whom we are mainly indebted for the arrangement of the Roman Liturgy, was anxious to perpetuate the memory of a day, which gave to Rome her grandest glory. He, therefore, ordained that the Church of St. Peter should be the Station of the Great Litany, which was always to be celebrated on that auspicious day. The 25th of April comes so frequently during the Octave of Easter, that it could not be kept as a Feast, properly so called, in honor of St. Peter’s entrance into Rome; St. Gregory, therefore, adopted the only means left of commemorating the great event.
Hence from ancient times the Church kept these days as days of supplication. And even if fasting, the hallmark of Lent, would be ill-suited for Pascaltide, abstinence is still permitted and even obligatory in the Pascal Season. In former times, Rome enjoined abstinence from meat on the faithful during Rogationtide. Other places, however, such as the Churches in Gaul where Rogation Days originated, required fasting. Dom Guéranger testifies unknown custom to this:
A day, then, like this, of reparation to God’s offended majesty, would naturally suggest the necessity of joining some exterior penance to the interior dispositions of contrition which filled the hearts of Christians. Abstinence from flesh meat has always been observed on this day at Rome; and when the Roman Liturgy was established in France by Pepin and Charlemagne, the Great Litany of April 25 was, of course, celebrated, and the abstinence kept by the faithful of that country. A Council of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 836, enjoined the additional obligation of resting from servile work on this day: the same enactment is found in the Capitularia of Charles the Bald. As regards fasting, properly so-called, being contrary to the spirit of Paschal Time, it would seem never to have been observed on this day, at least not generally. Amalarius, who lived in the ninth century, asserts that it was not then practiced even in Rome.
Fasting was championed as well by St. Charles Borromeo in Milan, although Rome has never obligated fasting during the Pascal Season. Fasting during the Pascal Season, though is not a sin, just as almsgiving and prayer, the other Lenten pillars, are certainly praiseworthy during Pascaltide.
May we continue to incorporate some of our Lenten practices going forward and offer them in joy for the conversion of sinners and the exaltation of Holy Mother Church. And chief among our weapons to conquer demons and concupiscence is fasting.