Fasting and the Call to Holiness | John B. Buescher | HPR
Our salvation depends wholly on God’s grace, of which we are completely undeserving. But through fasting, as well as through prayer and almsgiving, we can open up space for God’s grace to enter.
The Second Vatican Council’s document, Lumen Gentium, was issued in 1964. Its section on “The Universal Call to Holiness,” read on its own, is puzzling because it seems to suggest that lay Catholics had not realized before that they, too, like the clergy, were called to holiness. However, I’m trying to imagine who those Catholics were who didn’t know that they were called to holiness. As far as I can remember, Catholics well understood that the Church called everyone, everywhere, to be holy. The section on the Universal Call to Holiness appears in Lumen Gentium’s longer description of the hierarchical Church, and so should be read as an effort to emphasize that the laity, too, are called to pursue holiness as an explicit part of their vocation.
The document’s explanation of what this call to holiness for the laity entails, practically speaking, is sketchy. The main “new” practice that has resulted from it has been the encouragement in some quarters for the laity to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. We are also encouraged to attend daily Mass, and to receive Communion frequently. In this, the laity are to take up more seriously one of the three, long-established spiritual practices—prayer—the other two being fasting and almsgiving.
It seems doubly confusing and disconcerting that the 1964 “call to holiness” was quickly followed in February 1966 by a revision of Catholics’ fasting rules (in Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution, that relaxed and, in effect, nearly eliminated the fasting and abstinence requirements altogether.)
(See: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/apost_constitutions/documents/ hf_p-vi_apc_19660217_paenitemini_en.html>Paenitemini
and in the USCCB’s: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence).
To get some perspective on how lax today’s requirements are, compared to previous times, take a look at this description of the fasting and abstinence rules in effect in Britain in 1828, from Thomas Ignatius M. Forster, Circle of the Seasons, and Perpetual Key to the Calendar and Almanac: