Thursday, March 20, 2008

The End of Lent

God be merciful to me a sinner

I haven't done much during this Lent. Some Lents have been like that. If I do resolve to either do something extra or give something up, I keep to it with few slip-ups. But this year, Lent just hasn't held my attention.

The first couple of weeks, I decided to read a favorite prayer book. Reading a few minutes each night, I was done after two weeks. Then, I began brainstorming for backup Lent plans.

Before the Vatican II Council, Catholic adults over age 21 and under 60 were obligated to follow a strict fasting regimen during Lent. They were allowed to eat three modest meals a day, and the sum of two could not be larger than the third meal. Meat was allowed once a day, never on Fridays. Liquids could be taken between meals, but no solid food. Sunday was a day of rest from the fast, when one could eat normally.

On top of all this food deprivation, there was the Lenten tradition of "giving up" a daily treat, such as eating chocolate, or doing something extra in sacrifice, such as attending daily Mass. Lent really packed some serious spiritual clout in those days. As a child, I viewed my distant 21st birthday with dread. How would I ever manage to keep the Lenten fast?

The energy I expended agonizing over my hungry future was wasted, as the Lenten fast was long a thing of the past by the time I reached age 21. The "giving up" or "doing extra" exercise remains, and it's impressive how many Catholics today still resolve to forego simple pleasures in the spirit of Lenten sacrifice.

During the third week of Lent this year, with the prayer book back on its shelf, I decided to try to keep the pre-Vatican II Lenten fast, the thought of which had so daunted me in olden days. I didn't do very well. The small meals, easy to manage. Meat once a day, no problem. But how can anyone power through the day without a granola bar or an apple to fuel mid-mornings or afternoons?

I must confess, I can't. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Every night after dinner, I always have two cookies with a cup of tea. Next year during Lent, I've already decided, I'm giving up the cookies.

I'll let you know how long I last.