Life and Soul

Omnium Gatherum

Ash Wednesday comes early this year, namely on February 10. You should already be planning what your Lenten discipline will be.

I suggest something more challenging than giving up chocolate … again. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence, generally from meat. You might consult what your bishops said in 1985 about fasting and abstinence . They don’t set the bar very high, so consider doing a bit more. Be traditional! Also, remember that fasting means not snacking between your reduced meals.

Speaking of fasting and abstinence, during Lent I get all sorts of questions about what can be eaten as well as how much of the “what”. Old manuals of moral theology help me out with most of these things. For example, we may eat both alligator and crocodile on Ash Wednesday, during Lent and, indeed, on Fridays. They are cold-blooded. This was settled in the time of Pope Benedict XIV (d 1758).

I’m not sure Benedict knew about the endothermic (warm-blooded) moonfish. Yes, you may fry your fish and chips in liquefied beef fat. We can also eat gelatin from meat, but not peptonised beef. I had to look that up. I believe, according to local custom, in some parts of South America capybara is allowed. Muskrat can be eaten on Fridays in some parts of Michigan. I’m told it tastes of dirty dishrag and has the consistency of very old, thick asparagus.

In regard to taking something between meals, the old axiom for the Lenten fast is liquidum non frangit ieiunium – “liquid does not break the fast”, provided we drink something for the sake of thirst, rather than for pleasure.

Common sense suggests that chocolate banana shakes are not permitted. Lucozade, probably OK. Red Bull, probably not. Coffee and tea do not break the fast even with a little added milk, a bit of sugar, or – quod Deus averruncet – lemon. That said, although they don’t break the Ash Wednesday fast, coffee or tea would break the Eucharistic fast (one hour before Communion), since they are no longer merely water. You will also be relieved to know that chewing tobacco does not break the fast (unless you eat the quid, I suppose), nor does using mouthwash (gargarisatio in one manual I checked) or brushing your teeth (pulverisatio – a neologism no doubt from the age of tooth powder). What’s my point? Plan your Lent well before Lent.