Forgive me please for writing about fasting during Easter Season, but I can’t wait until the next season of Lent to do so as I won’t be writing a Daily Cup then, and I’ve had this one percolating in my mind for a while.
As I’ve gotten older and have come within the purview of the dispensation in the Roman Catholic Church from the rules about fasting and abstinence for “those of riper years,” I’ve begun to wonder about the place of rules in this matter at all. The Book of Common Prayer sets forth two fast days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It goes further though to state that all of the weekdays of Lent (except the Feast of the Annunciation) and all other Fridays of the year except during the seasons of Christmas and Easter or those which fall on a Feast of our Lord, such as, oddly, I think, Holy Cross Day, are days observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial. All of this is on page 17 of the Book of Common Prayer.
The language in the prayer book is especially interesting and typically Anglican. It says “are observed;” not “shall be observed;” or “should be observed.” That is, the language is descriptive, not prescriptive. It almost has the sense of describing to an outside observer how Anglican Christians behave on special days.
But if we Anglicans behave in such a manner, absent a rule requiring it, why do we do so?
I think, at the most fundamental level, the idea is that the behavior derives from entering into the meaning of the days about which such behavior is associated. To take the most obvious example, Good Friday, if one fully enters into the meaning of the day, and vicariously experiences the events recounted in the scripture lessons, reinforced as they are by the services of the church on that day, one would simply have no appetite. How could one be like those referenced by “Is my sorrow nothing to you, all you who pass by?” Ideally, the behavior follows naturally from the spiritual immersion into the remembered events of the day, not from a train of thought that says, ‘Oh, it’s Good Friday, I can’t eat anything today.” If we really, really took it in, we would spend the three hours weeping like the women of Jerusalem following Jesus to Golgotha. The very thought of eating and drinking would never enter our minds.
The challenge of the church is how to nourish that spiritual connection through education and liturgy. Too often it has seemed to me, in every church with which I have ever been been affiliated, the Good Friday services actually distract and detract from that immersion. Too often they are occasions for music appreciation instead. Were it up to me I would limit music on Good Friday to a few familiar congregational hymns of deep meaning such as “Were you there when they crucified my Lord.”
On Fridays at Morning Prayer “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Collect for Fridays. “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.” And during the day reflect on the crucifixion and what meaning walking in the way of the cross has for us. But wait until May 20, the Friday after Pentecost, to do so. It isn’t appropriate for Fridays in Easter Season.
Ron Hicks. Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 12-April-2016.