A Lenten Primer

When a friend of mine asked me yesterday how fishing was going this winter, I replied with a smile “I have enough perch in the freezer to get me through Lent.”

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, Father reminded us at mass. Time for a little Lenten primer, for you non-Catholics (and some of us Catholics, too—I had to look some of this stuff up).

Mark’s Gospel says “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”

Luke says “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.”

Matthew says “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

All three tell the story of Christ’s 40-day desert fast and his temptation by the Devil. Only John’s Gospel does not talk of Jesus’ time in the desert. I don’t know why. I need to ask my favorite biblical scholar, Monsignor Chad Gion, that question when he returns home from Kosovo.

Lent began last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Typically, we Catholics consider Lent to be 40 days of fasting, much as Jesus did in the desert, although our fasting consists now of meatless Fridays during Lent and a meatless Ash Wednesday, and “giving something up” for Lent. Not so when I was a boy. When I grew up, Catholics abstained from meat every Friday of the year, as well as Ash Wednesday. Why abstain from meat? Well, because we like it, and we notice its absence. Growing up, I ate a lot of fresh fish, fish sticks, cream peas on toast and macaroni and cheese. We were called minnow munchers by the Lutherans. But there was a large enough Catholic population in my hometown of Hettinger that the school cafeteria went meatless on Fridays. The Lutherans got meat for supper. We didn’t. Unless dad had been ice fishing, we got fish sticks. Remember them? Ugh.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI, the Pope of my teenage years, told us that we could let our bishops decide when to abstain from meat. That year, United States bishops decreed we would not eat meat only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. It’s been that way ever since. I’m pretty sure I haven’t eaten a fish stick since.

But we are asked, and expected, to do other acts of abstinence during Lent. Give up candy. Or beer.  Or movies. Or something that we like and will notice its absence. For the 40 days of Lent.

But hold on. 40 days? The math doesn’t work. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. 47 this year, a leap year.  What’s up with that?

Well, Sundays don’t count.

Huh?

Yep. That’s right. Because on Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Sundays are days of celebration. So Sundays are not considered part of Lent. We don’t “fast” on Sundays. Which means whatever we have given up for Lent, we don’t have to give it up on Sunday. Celebrate. Go to a movie. Drink a beer. Eat your candy. Yippee! Because Sundays during Lent are the days I eat Peeps. Peeps have replaced fish sticks as Lenten fare for me.Peeps photo

I buy my Peeps just before Lent. I put them in the freezer. When I want one, I just pop one out of the package and pop it into my mouth. Ever tried freezing your Peeps? Trust me, they’re much better.

If it seems like Lent, and Easter, are early this year, you are right. I’ve always enjoyed the irony of the way Easter is determined. Even though it is the holiest of holy days in the Christian faith—we are celebrating Christ’s resurrection, after all—the date of Easter is based on a mostly pagan ritual.

Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox is either March 19, 20 or 21. Generally, it falls on the 20th but depending on where you are in the world, it could occur very late in the evening on March 19 or very early in the morning on March 21. (Note: Lillian and I got married on the Spring Equinox in 2004. Without going and checking, I couldn’t tell you—and neither could she—if it was the 19th, 20th or 21st , so we just celebrate our anniversary on the Equinox, whenever it is that year).

This year, the Equinox is on March 20th, and the full moon is just three days later, on the 23rd,  which is Wednesday, so Easter is on the 27th.  The earliest date Easter could occur is March 22. For that to happen, the Equinox would have to be on Friday, March 20, the full moon on Saturday, March 21, and Easter the next day.

By my math, the latest Easter could be is April 25. What would trigger that would be a full moon on the Equinox, Sunday, March 21, which would mean the next full moon would be on Monday, April 19, and Easter the following Sunday, the 25th.

Okay, that’s enough math for an English major. And that’s enough paganism for a Catholic. I’m going to get a Peeps out of the freezer. Whatever YOU’RE giving up for Lent this year, you get a day off today. Enjoy it. And thank God for the perch. No fish sticks this year for me.

3 thoughts on “A Lenten Primer

  1. “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”
    Yesterday Monsignor Shea cracked everyone up in his homily when he quoted this line and called it the “biggest understatement in the history of literature.”

    We had creamed tuna on toast or fishsticks at my house on Fridays. I still like creamed tuna, but I’m with you on the fish sticks. Never had one again.

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  2. Jim, I enjoyed your post. At that same time, we called you Mackerel Snappers too.

    Now that we before my conversion. Creamed tuna on toast was our fare ever since. I confess that I have had fish sticks at least 3 times in the past 50 years and I have no earthly idea why I ate them. A fool’s errand.

    This is an unusual time in history. Certainly the political and religious worlds are in some state of turmoil—-more than just the normal chaos. Or perhaps I just long for times past—a sign of maturity not to be confused with getting older.

    It seems that this is a real opportunity for me and maybe others to reflect on our life today. Our nation certainly has an abundance of real issues. And very few ideas on how to improve our society. That is truly a sad sign for this country. A lot of noise is not making us more tolerant but we appear to be much less. And that too is not a good sign for us.

    This is a time for me to really reflect on my beliefs and actions regarding not only my faith but how that needs to be put into deeds. Maybe these times push us into determining that I have to hold up my end of the wagon before I tell you too. Time will tell.

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  3. What has always been unclear to me about the 40 days is what is “tempting” about being in the desert with nothing to eat? Seems like fish sticks would have looked pretty good at some point. And Peeps, now there is a real temptation.

    The new blog looks and works great Jim. Nice work.

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