Lent, Ash Wednesday, Lenten Fasting in the CR

Discussion in 'Culture' started by easthigh69, Mar 12, 2000.

  1. easthigh69

    easthigh69 Member

    Lent in the Czech Republic

    “Stand in the way and hear, in order to be truly penitent; for thus the Kingdom of Heaven will come nigh to you. For true penitence is the health of the soul, the restoration of virtues, as St. Bernard testifies, saying: ‘O penitence, the health of the soul, the restoration of virtues, scattering of sins, destruction of hell, gate of Heaven, the way of the just, and the satisfaction of the blessed. Most happy is the man who loves the holy penitence and guards it till the end of his life.’ Stand in the way of God, my dear brothers, constantly growing in the holy life; cease not to do good, for in your time you will live in Heaven forever. Amen.” (Jan Hus)

    A visit to the Czech Republic during Lent is the best time to see the villages flower with children’s processions with green sprigs, brightly painted eggs and ribbons on birch rods.

    In Prague’s Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí), trees are decorated with brightly colored ribbons in red, yellow, blue, pink and green. Hanging from tree branches are colored Easter eggs. Around the base of the trees are Paschal equivalents of nativity scenes, with the Easter Bunny sitting cozily in straw, surrounded with decorated eggs of all sizes and more colored ribbons.

    All these festive decorations are complemented by musicians and traditional music floating through the main thoroughfares. The well-practiced veterans of jazz and Dixieland music play engagingly in parts of the Old Town (Staré Město) and on Charles Bridge (Karlův most). A grandstand is erected in Staroměstské náměstí where dancers of all ages perform customary dances in traditional costumes.

    In 1995, for instance, the public had the chance to see 42 stands selling traditional artistic handicrafts and more. The organizers planned various competitions in the holiday spirit. Every day, from April 7th to 17th of that year, there were concerts and performances, celebrating the holiday’s folk traditions.

    Lent is also a time for spring house-cleaning, baking, painting and getting ready for Easter in general. Large drawers are filled to capacity with all kinds of homemade cookies and cakes. Baskets with hard-boiled, hand-painted eggs stand ready in a cool pantry for the big celebrations on Easter Sunday and Monday. Everything is ready for the two big days, including new clothes and shoes.

    Popeleční středa: Ash Wednesday

    “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19 JPS)

    Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (Popeleční středa), the seventh Wednesday before Easter. It occurs forty days before the holiday (not counting the intervening Sundays). It is said that, Jak je na popeleční středu, tak bude celý půst. (“The kind of day Ash Wednesday is, that is the way all of Lent will be.”)

    Popeleční středa is a day of solemn repentance. Its Latin name, “Dies Cinerum,” originated from an ancient custom – the use of ashes as a symbol of repentance. Reference to “Dies Cinerum” can be found in the Roman Missal and in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century.

    On Popeleční středa, believers in Catholic churches are given sanctified ashes, which by ancient tradition are obtained by burning twigs – mostly pussywillow – which were blessed the previous year on Palm Sunday.

    In the blessing of the ashes four prayers are used, all of them ancient. The ashes are sprinkled with holy water and fumigated with incense. The celebrant himself, whether bishop or cardinal, receives, either standing or seated, the ashes from some other priest, usually the highest in dignity of those present. In earlier ages a penitential procession often followed the rite of the distribution of the ashes, but this is not now prescribed.

    Why are ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday used? Because Palm Sunday was when the people rejoiced at Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem:

    “They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’ So the multitudes said, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:7-11 NKJV)

    They celebrated His arrival by waving palms, little realizing that He was coming to die for their sins. By using the branches from Palm Sunday, it is a reminder that we must not only rejoice of the Lord’s coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for Him to die for us in order to save us from hell.

    The priest places the blessed ashes on the foreheads of the officiating priests, the clergy and the congregation in the shape of a cross. Why are their foreheads marked with a cross? Because in the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. In this case, it signifies that the person belongs to Jesus, Who died on the Cross. This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on Christians in baptism, when they are delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and they are made slaves of righteousness and Christ (Romans 6:3-18).

    As the priest does this, he recites over each person either “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” It is thus a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before this life is over and we face our Judge.

    It is believed that the custom of wearing ashes was borrowed from the Jewish religion. For instance,

    “Also, in every province that the king’s command and decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing, and everybody lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:3 JPS)

    In Biblical times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one’s head.

    From the fourth to the tenth century, the bishops sprinkled ashes over the heads of penitents who appeared before them in a garment of sackcloth. Later, as penance became a voluntary and private act, the custom developed into its present form.

    While we no longer normally wear sackcloth or sit in dust and ashes, the customs of fasting and putting ashes on one’s forehead as a sign of mourning and penance have survived to this day.

    Lenten Fasting in the Czech Republic

    “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” (Matthew 4:2 NKJV)

    The Czech Republic is predominately Roman Catholic, and the people therefore generally follow the current Catholic guidelines for fasting.

    The law of abstinence obliges those 14 years of age and older not to eat meat. The law of fast obliges all those from ages 18 through 59 to refrain from eating between meals and to limit their eating to one full meal for the day. Two smaller meals are permitted if necessary to maintain strength according to one’s needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fast and abstinence.

    People may be excused from fasting and abstinence duties for medical reasons and special dietary needs. Those who have permission from the Holy See to eat meat on prohibited days, may avail themselves of this concession at their full meal, not only on days of abstinence but also on fasting days. When age, sickness or labor releases Christians from fasting, they are at liberty to to eat meat as often as they are justified in taking food, provided the use of meat is allowed by a general Indult of their bishop (Sacred Penitentiaria, 16 Jan., 1834). Finally, the Holy See has repeatedly declared that the use of lard allowed by Indult includes butter or the fat of any animal.

    In earlier times, the fast in the Czech lands was much more strict than it is now. Meat, cheese and eggs weren’t eaten, nor was milk drunk or butter or fat spread on bread. Vegetable oil was used instead. Alcohol wasn’t drunk and tobacco was neither smoked nor taken as snuff. Only one meal a day was eaten, and this was of fruit and vegetables. The fast was later softened – various soups were eaten, such as bean, lentil, cabbage, sour and caraway.

    Aside from soups, other simple meatless foods were served, like scones, millet mash, dumplings with damson-cheese, potatoes with milk, or just bread with sauerkraut.

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