|ROME, 24 FEB. 24 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
* * *
As Lent approaches I wish to deal with some questions which we have
addressed in previous years but which are continually raised.
One refers to the novel practice of removing holy water from the stoops
during Lent. We explained on March 23, 2004, why this should not be
done, quoting from an official reply of the Congregation for Divine
Worship (3/14/03: Prot. N. 569/00/L). To wit:
"This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from
the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for
two reasons: "1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee
this innovation, which in addition to being 'praeter legem' is contrary
to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly
being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of
water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts. "2. The
encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves
frequently of the sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the
season of Lent. The 'fast' and 'abstinence' which the faithful embrace
in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. "The practice of the Church has been to
empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in
preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it
corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated
(i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday)."
Many questions refer to the nature and obligation of the Lenten fast.
A fairly extensive treatment of this topic can be found March 14 and 28,
2006, in which we deal with the general rules and acceptable exceptions
to the laws of fast and abstinence.
Regarding this, a priest reader from Oklahoma asked: "Is it a grave
matter to eat meat, knowingly and without necessity, on a Friday in
This is more related to moral theology than liturgy. There are sins in
which the matter may be grave or not grave according to other
circumstances. For example, stealing even a small sum would be grave
matter if the thief knows the victim to be desperately poor and needy.
It would not necessarily be grave matter, although still a sin, if it
represented a slight loss.
Considering this, I would say that the act of eating meat on a Friday of
Lent could be grave or venial according to other circumstances. If this
act is carried out knowingly, without necessity in such a way that the
Church's laws are openly despised and denigrated, then it would be grave
matter and should be confessed as such.
However, there may be many circumstances that could mitigate the
culpability. For example, in a religiously pluralistic society a
Catholic could easily find himself invited to a gathering where refusing
what was offered would deeply offend the host. Strictly speaking, he is
knowingly and unnecessarily eating meat on a day of abstinence but finds
himself in a social conundrum that would make his fault less grave.
Not that he is off the hook completely. A Catholic should foresee these
situations and avoid them whenever possible. He should also be willing
to testify and defend his faith. After all, precisely because we have a
pluralistic society nobody ridicules Buddhists for vegetarianism nor
Jews and Muslims for abstaining from pork. Therefore Catholics should be
courageous and visible in observing our somewhat miniscule rules on the
days the Church asks us to make a sacrifice.
Finally, several readers asked if it was permitted to incorporate mimes
and dramas during the reading of the Passion and other Holy Week
readings. We repeat what we said in April 2007: "While such elements may
be incorporated into extra-liturgical events such as a Way of the Cross
or catechesis, they are never permitted within the liturgy. God's Word
must be heard in the silence of the soul with as little interference as
possible from visual or audible distractions."
Of course, this rule applies to all seasons of the year. The liturgy is
simply not the appropriate situation for such demonstrations even though
they are praiseworthy and effective catechetical tools in other
* * *
Follow-up: Holy Water,
Abstinence and Mimes [3-10-2009]
Related to our Feb. 24 comments on the Lenten fast, some readers
asked for specifications.
A New York reader asked: "In your article on abstinence you said,
'This is why people who are sick, very poor or engaged in heavy labor
(or who have difficulty in procuring fish) are not bound to observe the
law,' but I think you missed one category, those who are allergic to
fish. Following this I was wondering what degree of obligation was put
on those who are allergic or cannot easily obtain fish, to use other
protein sources (beans, nuts, cheese, eggs), before resorting to meat?
My mother is allergic, so Fridays in Lent meant bean casserole in our
Here we must distinguish a little. Abstinence for Catholics means to
abstain from flesh meat
not an obligation to eat fish.
Once again, circumstances play a part. In the developed world there
are many nutritious and delicious alternatives to bean casserole, so
that it is fairly easy to provide options that require neither meat nor
At the same time, one does not have to go to extraordinary lengths to
substitute fish, and an allergy to fish could be classed as an illness
that exempts from the obligation to refrain from meat. I therefore think
that while it is spiritually better for someone in this condition to try
to avoid meat during Lent, they would be able to take it with a clear
conscience if this causes a significant burden.
A Michigan reader asked: "On Sundays during Lent are Catholics
allowed to continue their sacrifices? For example, if someone gave up
television for Lent and he did not want to watch television on Sundays
either, would it be canonically incorrect for him to continue abstaining
from this amusement? Or by the laws of the Church, should he make a
point of watching television in order to show the observance of Sundays
as not being days of fasting and penitence?"
Again we must distinguish. One thing is that historically the Church
never classes Sunday as a penitential day; another thing is the range of
healthy and wholesome voluntary sacrifices that many Catholics offer
during Lent. Among other reasons, these sacrifices prepare for Easter,
make reparation for failings and constitute an act of inner freedom from
the attachments toward worldly things.
Because of the voluntary nature of sacrifices, a Catholic is under no
obligation to leave them aside on Sunday and may freely observe them
during the entire Lenten season.
Indeed, ascetically this is often the best thing to do, since
interrupting these sacrifices can weaken the resolution to make it to
the end. Some people, however, especially those imbued with a more
liturgical spirituality, might find a Sunday interval to be helpful in
living the spirit of Lent. It very much boils down to what each person
considers as being most spiritually beneficial to his soul and for the
good of others.